Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Since I arrived home from Albania I have been trying to write a concluding post, something I could say to wrap up my trip and summarize what I learned.  For months, I've been trying to think of what to write.  But how can I possibly summarize eight months of life-changing experience?  It's not easy.

The trip was certainly different than I had expected.  Before I left home, I knew better than to set expectations because I had no idea what life would be like in Albania.  But in my mind, I suppose I over-glamorized missions a little bit.  I pictured myself working hard every day, accomplishing great things for God.  But a lot of the trip consisted of me staying around the house, waiting and praying for opportunities to serve.  My lack of busyness certainly wasn't for lack of trying!  There were many ministries I tried to be involved in, many people I tried to build relationships with, but a lot of it didn't work out.  I often wondered how that could be God's plan.  Didn't He want me to do great things for Him?  Sometimes I would be discouraged and even a little disappointed with myself about how little i thought I had accomplished.  Although these feelings hardly ever lasted long, the devil would definitely use those discouraging moments to make me feel like I had accomplished nothing.

In the middle of such times God always reminded me, not of what I accomplished, but what He accomplished through me.  I may not have been involved in the kind of opportunities I picture, but God had so many other wonderful ministries in store for me!  And though I may not have learned the lessons I expected to learn, I certainly learned many things I didn't plan on.  God helped me stretch and grow in ways that I wouldn't have anticipated.  Through my experience in Albania, I learned how to adjust to a new culture and a new language.  I learned my own insignificance.  I learned the importance of building relationships to bring people to the Lord.  I learned patience.  I learned to be dependent on my Redeemer.  I learned to work with unpredictable situations and to expect the unexpected.  I learned that God works in ways that i can't imagine.

Coming home after such a life-changing experience was both easier and harder than I would have imagined.  It's a strange feeling to try and fall back into a normal pattern of life while maintaining the changes of heart that I experienced.  To be honest, the first few weeks I was home from Albania were very difficult.  I would find myself sitting in church on Sunday on the verge of tears because I wanted nothing more than to be worshipping with the Albanians.  I would look at the cushy lives we live, the facades we wear, and wish i was back among people who lived out their faith boldly in the face of persecution.  A lot of times my daily life felt, well...wrong.  Sometimes it still feels wrong.

I have adjusted back to American life again, though I am still learning how to apply my changed outlook to the way I live on a regular basis.  My prayer is that I would not get too adjusted.  I don't ever want to lose the passion that God has given me for reaching those who do not know Him.  Albania is always in the back of my mind, and I pray that it will always be so.  It is a constant reminder that my purpose in this life is to serve Him and Him alone.  I look back on my time in Albania and realize how truly blessed I am to have experienced the things I experienced.

People often ask me if I want to go back.  My answer is a definite "Yes!"

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Something to Think About

For some time now, I've been rather disenchanted with the way Americans typically practice Christianity.  And after eight months of observing Albanian Christians, I have begun to notice even more ways that we, as American Christians, often fall short.  I grew up in the church, blessed with Christian parents, so my faith has always been a part of my life.  And I think that's the problem with many of us.  We take our faith for granted, and because of that we often lose sight of what a relationship with God is supposed to look like.

Albanian Christians have been so fascinating to me.  Many of them are first-generation believers.  For them, putting their trust in the Lord involved a complete change of their hearts and their actions.  Many of them are rejected and even persecuted by their families for their faith.  They rise above the social and cultural norms that most Albanians practice and choose a life of servitude to the Lord and to His people.  Because many of them did not grow up in Christian households, it is a difficult decision to abandon the lives that they choose to leave behind.  For them, it is not as simple as saying a prayer and attending church - they often must forsake family, friends, and tradition to follow the Lord.  The change that takes place in their hearts is so drastic that other people can't help but notice the difference.

The church that I attend here often reminds me of the early church in the book of Acts.  The faith that they practice is so pure, so genuine.  Their worship is heartfelt; their preaching is taken straight from the Bible and does not require embellishment to make it entertaining to them - they simply love to hear the Word of the Lord.  They do not need flashing lights or exciting social events to keep them interested in going to church.  To them, choosing to accept Christ doesn't mean saying a prayer and then continuing to live their lives as they did before - in fact, they would probably be utterly shocked to hear that that is how many Americans treat their Christianity.

These observations have led me to consider how the American church is falling short.  In comparison with the Albanians, and ultimately, with the believers of the church in the New Testament, I have begun to see how watered-down our religion is.  Do we have an all-consuming passion for the truth?  Do our choices reflect God, or the world?  Is a deeper relationship with God our biggest desire?  Do we let our faith define us?  Or are we just content to let him be an accessory, only a small part of our life that we take out and use on occasions that suit our purpose?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dita e Veres

Last Wednesday was Dita e Veres, or "Spring Day," here in Albania.  On Dita e Veres, all the schools have the day off, and everyone congregates in the center of town to celebrate.  I went out with some friends to join in the festivities.  One of the main streets of Tirana was decorated with garlands of large, brightly-colored plastic flowers strung over the road, and there were booths set up to sell food and traditional crafts.  On street corners, people sold yellow mimosa flowers, which grow all over Albania in the spring and make the air smell wonderful.

My friends and I wandered through the crowded streets, stopping to watch a traditional dance and to drink thick Turkish coffee.  We ate akullore (ice cream) and admired the beautiful hand-made traditional crafts that people were selling in booths on the side of the road.  I got to try ballokume, a large cookie made of corn meal that is traditionally eaten on Dita e Veres.  I also got to climb the pyramid, a monument in the center of town that was constructed to honor the death of Albania's communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, in 1985.  The walls of the pyramid are very steep, and I was absolutely terrified to climb it!  But the view from the top was wonderful.  We could look down on all the festivities below us, and the crowd was so thick that we could barely see the ground.


With two of my friends, Edi and Jozi

 The pyramid that we climbed

At the top of the pyramid

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

God Is The Only Thing That Can "Mbush"

I met with my friend last Wednesday evening to discuss what she had been learning from her Bible.  She told me that she has been reading her Bible for several hours each evening, and that she has started praying and asking God for help.  She talked about how she realizes her sin and has repented of it, and how she told God that she wants to follow Him.  She has been excitedly telling her friends and family about her new faith.  In her own words, "Everyone wants money, possessions, and relationships, but it's all 'kot' [vain] and God is the only thing that can 'mbush' [fill].  People don't say thank-you to God enough."  She also said that she has always been different from her friends because she wants to know why we're here, what the point of life is.  She had gotten a philosophy book from her school library in an attempt to answer her questions.  But when she began reading the Bible, she returned the philosophy book because she knew she had found the truth she was looking for.

I am still completely in awe of the faith God has given her.  Her understanding and insight put me to shame.  I often feel like she is teaching me more than I am teaching her!

Monday, March 5, 2012

God is Doing Amazing Things!

I just spoke on the phone with my friend again today, and what she said is exciting enough to warrant another post!

When she called, she asked for an explanation of a verse, and then told me that she has continued to read through the Bible and has been learning so much.  She said that she's been "asking Jesus for help."  She is so enthralled in the Word of God, and is so excited about all that she is learning.  I am completely in awe of how God is working in her life!  His Word is alive and powerful, and it is speaking to her heart.  Other than bringing her to church and giving her the Bible, I haven't really had any serious discussions with her about what it means to have faith in God.  But He has really been working in her and preparing her.  It just shows how powerful He is, and how little He needs my help!  His Word speaks for itself!  I feel like she has learned more from reading the Bible on her own the past two days than many people have learned about God in their whole lives.

 I am going to meet with her on Wednesday to talk about it all, which will hopefully lead to her making a decision for Christ.  Although, she may have already made the decision herself!  I don't think she has ever heard salvation and faith in Christ spelled out the way I would like explain it to her, but she certainly believes in God and sees her need for Him.  I may be able to explain some things to her, but God has already done the most important work.  He has gotten a hold of her heart in a way that I cannot even understand!

His Word is Alive and Powerful!

While living in Albania, one of my biggest problems has been not knowing how to communicate with other people about my faith.  Telling someone about Christ is a daunting task in itself, but add to that the confusion of a language barrier and it sometimes seems impossible!  I have been learning as much Albanian as I can pick up without taking lessons, but by now my vocabulary is only that of a two-year-old.  And most of the young Albanians that I have met know a good amount of English, but it's not enough to speak fluently on important topics.  (You know, how the God who created the Universe sent his son in human form to save us from our sin and depravity, and stuff like that.)  With such an obstacle, fear of miscommunication seems like a very legitimate concern.  But how can I do what I feel God has called me to do when I am so afraid to speak to others about Him?

Recently, I have been reading through Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Several verses jumped out at me and, like a slap in the face, showed me how ridiculous I have been:
  • Isaiah 50:4 - "The Sovereign Lord has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary..."
  • Isaiah 51:16 - "And I have put my words in your mouth and hidden you safely in my hand..."
  • Isaiah 59:21 - "'And this is my covenant with them,' says the Lord.  "My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you.  They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children's children forever.  I, the Lord, have spoken."
  • Jeremiah 1:7-9 - "The Lord replied, 'Don't say "I'm too young," for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.  And don't be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you.  I, the Lord, have spoken!'  Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, 'Look, I have put my words in your mouth!'"
God gave His prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, the right words to say because He knew they could not do it alone.  I realize now that my worry is completely unfounded.  When God gives us a job, He also provides us with what we need to do it.  And not only will He give us the words to say, but He has also provided us with the Bible, which is powerful enough to speak for itself!  Now, I have a new found confidence that God will provide me with His words.  After all, I am nothing more than His instrument.  I cannot accomplish anything on my own, but He will provide what I need to bring Him glory.

I have continued to build a relationship with an Albanian friend.  She speaks enough English that we can communicate fairly well, although we often end up laughing over the misunderstandings that the language barrier creates.  I often go to her house for lunch and to help her with her English homework.  She has also been coming to church with me almost every Sunday for the past two months.  She enjoys the service, and I know that she pays attention because she often comments about the message and tells me that it really made her think.  She is very open and receptive to the Gospel.  Yesterday, I gave her an Albanian Bible and a pamphlet about eternal life.  Later that day, she called me to tell me that she had spent the past few hours reading them, and that it's been making her think about her life.  She said it made her realize that she does wrong things, and she told me over and over how much she loved the books.

It's truly incredible how God has been working in her!  To her, the Word of God is like a mirror, showing her sin and her need for Christ.  No one had to tell her these things - she learned them on her own by listening in church, and now by reading the Bible.  Her simple acceptance of the truth reflects the child-like faith that the Bible says we should have.  I plan on meeting with her sometime this week to talk about the Gospel.  Please pray that God would give me the words to say, and that He would continue to give her a soft heart that is receptive to His salvation.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Bethany Orphanage

For the past few months, I have been volunteering at Bethany Orphanage with my aunt, Kristi, and my cousin, Sofi.  We go for a few hours on Tuesday mornings to play with the toddlers there.  Many orphanages in Albania are dreary places to live, and the children are not always properly taken care of.  However, Bethany is a wonderful orphanage with beautiful facilities and workers who truly care about the children.  There are about twenty toddlers that we play with, and they are all so precious!  Many of these children lived in awful situations and witnessed horrific events before coming to live at the orphanage, and as a result, some of them are very emotionally scarred.  They receive wonderful care at Bethany, but it is still a hard life to live in a home with twenty other toddlers and only a few workers to share between them, without a family and without one-on-one attention.  It has been a wonderful experience to be able to go for a few hours a week and love on these little ones.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


For the past few weeks, it's been snowing a lot here.  It's warmer in Tirana than in the rest of the country, so we've gotten nothing but rain and a few snow flurries yesterday morning.  But Mount Dajti, which is a fifteen-minute cable car ride from Tirana, is absolutely covered in snow.  On Monday, we went up to Dajti with some friends and spent the day playing in the snow.

Unfortunately, other areas of Albania haven't been having so much fun with the snow.  It's one of the coldest winters that has struck Albania in a very long time, and most areas up north are covered in snow.  Several of our friends who live in Tropoja in the far north of Albania are trapped in their houses under several feet of snow, and a few people have even died in the bad weather.  We frequently hear helicopters leaving the capitol to take supplies to those who are trapped. 

On the boarder of Kosovo, very near Tropoja, an avalanche crushed several houses and killed ten people from one family.  Only one five-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble alive and unharmed.  Her parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles are all dead.

Pray for this little girl, as well as all the others in the north who are trapped in their houses.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Friend

In the past few weeks, my uncle has been making friends with our mailman.  He discovered that our mailman's first wife was a Christian, and when she died he married a woman who is Muslim by tradition, though not in practice.  He is very open to discussion of Christianity, and has many questions about our faith.  His fifteen-year-old neice has been living with him and his wife for the past few years.  Two Sundays ago, they came to church with us.  They both enjoyed it, and would like to continue coming.  I was also able to spend some time at their house last week, to help the girl with English homework and to get to know her and her aunt.  She speaks only a little English, and her aunt speaks none at all, so trying to communicate is often very comical.  But both of them are very kind and welcoming, and I enjoyed the time I spent with them. My friend and I plan to continue spending time together, and I am praying that she will keep coming to church with me.  Please pray that she and I would be able to develop a good friendship, and that she would come to know the Lord.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life in Albania

  • An estimated 70% of Albanians are Muslim, though many follow Islam only by tradition and do not practice it devoutly.  Other prominent religions include Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox. 
  • The mountains are truly stunning.  My cousin likes to say that if all the mountains in Albania were ironed out, the country would be the size of Russia.
  • Albania has a rich history that goes back thousands and thousands of years.  It's so different from America, which is a relatively new country!  There are many historical sites from as far back as  before Greek and Roman times, and I would love to know what history is buried beneath some of the major cities.
  • The story behind the two-headed eagle on the Albanian flag can be found here:
  • Very few people obey the traffic laws.  Stoplights are irrelevant, everyone makes their own lanes, and the policemen who stand on the side of the road and wave their arms are almost completely ineffective.
  • Albania is known as the most hospitable country in Europe.
  • We have to filter all the drinking water so we don't get parasites.
  • Everyone throws their trash in the streets.  Several times, we've passed a huge trash pile on the ground...right next to an empty dumpster.
  • Crossing the streets is like being in a game of Frogger.
  • We bleach all the fruits and vegetables that we buy from open markets because it's hard to know how clean they are.  My aunt once saw a rat crawling over all the tomatoes.
  • One word: "Opa!"
  • Kolonat is the Albanian equivalent of McDonald's, and AFC is the Albanian knock-off of KFC.
  • Personal space does not exist.
  • Albanian cuisine can be summed up in three words: kos (yogurt), olives, lamb.
  • Shaking your head side to side means "yes."
  • When you meet elderly ladies, they like to pinch your cheeks and then plan your wedding with their son.
  • Castles, castles, castles!
  • New Year's is the most celebrated holiday.  Christmas was not celebrated in Albanian during communism, and, though it is celebrated now, is not as big of a deal as New Year's Eve.  It is when they give gifts, visit family, and shoot off millions of fireworks that would be illegal in the States.
  • In most cities, the Muslim Call to Prayer can clearly be heard. 
  • Everyone you meet invites you out for coffee.  In fact, we drink so much coffee that if I were to get cut, I'm sure I would bleed coffee.
  • Skanderbeg is the most famous national hero in Albania.  He is known for fighting off the invading Ottoman Turks in the 1400's.  His statues stands in the center of Tirana, the capitol.  Kolonat even has a burger named after him: the Skanderburger!
  • There are 36 letters in the Albanian alphabet.  However, reading Albanian is relatively simple - each letter always makes the same sound, very much unlike English! 
  • Popular foods include byrek, sufflaqe, fli, and lamb head roasted on a spit (You don't eat no meat?! Ok, I make lamb :)

  • In fact, watch "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."  That pretty much sums it all up.
  • Albanian culture includes a myriad of blessings and curses ("bless your hands," "may you have a long life," etc.)  One curse is literally translated as "May the skin on your elbows dry up!"
  • Leke is the currency used.  It's easy to convert: 100 leke almost exactly equals $1.  So a cheeseburger at Kolonat is about 200 leke.
  • In the Bible, "Illyricm" was ancient Albania.  Romans 15:19, "They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God's Spirit.  In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum." 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Psalm 90:12, 14-15"Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts...Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days.  Make us rejoice for as many years as we have seen adversity."

Psalm 119:96
"I have see n a limit to all perfection, but Your command is without limit."

2 Corinthians 10:3-5
"We are human, but don't wage war as humans do.  We use God's mighty weapons, not worldy weapons to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps us from knowing God.  We capture every rebellious thought and teach them to obey Christ."

Jeremiah 6:16-17
"This is what the Lord says: Stop at the crossroads and look around.  Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.  Travel it's path, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you reply, 'No, that's not the road we want!"  I posted watchmen over you who said, 'Listen for the sound of the alarm.'  But you replied, 'No, we won't pay attention!'"

Monday, January 16, 2012

English Lessons

Last week, we began making arrangements for different ministry opportunities that I am going to be involved in.  I hope to begin giving English lessons, so that I can make friends with Albanian girls of high-school and college age.  Most Albanian students know at least a little English because they are required to learn it in school, so I’ll offer tutoring to help girls with conversational skills. We spoke with a school across the street from where we live about how I can help their English students, and I hope to begin working with them by next week.  I have also been arranging to work with Hope for the World at a home for Albanian orphans between the ages of 15 and 18.  There, I will help the girls with their English studies by hanging out with them and teaching them conversational skills.

We have continued to get to know the families of Denisa and Valbona, the gypsy girls we befriended on the street.  Yesterday, we went to visit Valbona’s older sister, Rukia, who was in the hospital to have her appendix taken out.  She is a precious girl with a beautiful smile, and she beamed as my uncle read to her from Psalms.  We hope to be able to continue to build relationships with her family, as well as with Denisa’s family.