July 29, 2006

In Albania to Stay

I'm sitting in the Stephen Centre - a foreign, christian cafe/restraunt in Tirana. It's air conditioned, has the flags of the world hanging up between the walls, it even has a framed art deco photo that used to be in my old Birmingham home. I've got my traditional diet coke with ice, a notebook and pen and a million thoughts.

I just met a poor gypsy family; snotty nosed kids just wearing underpants and tatty tee-shirts, a father and mother pushing a plastic pushchair for their little one and all pleading with their eyes for nje cind lek - about 2pence. 'Me fal, me fal' I say as I walk past 'forgive me, forgive me' and when I look back to say goodbye the mother let go of my arm and looked back with a wide and sparkling smile. Some people here are very poor, not all, but some. I'm not going to start speaking about Albanian culture because over the years I've come nowhere close to earning that right - but there is undoubtedly poverty here - not accross the board - but it is alive and kicking in Albania.

After Anna and Catherine left (see "Firefly Week" below) I began my second week in Albania. It was heartaching to see them go and I realised how I missed my family, other friends and life 'back home'. The reality of being in a foreign country and culture had been slowly dawning on me while Anna and Catherine were with me, but the day they left it fell upon me like a ton of bricks.

The day they left - early in the morning, I hugged them goodbye outside the airport at 3.20am before jumping back in the taxi that would take me down the bumpy Bathore Road to Margarets house. I slept for 3 hours before Margaret, Judith and I began to prepare for travelling up north in the Landrover to Shkodra to look for houses to live in.

We will go up as a small team to set up a nesting base for WEC and its new workers (me being one of them) Margaret, a Scottish lady who has been a WEC missionary in Albania for 13 years will coordinate this new phase for WEC Albania and Judith a Singaporean lady who has been a WEC missionary in Albania for 8 years will work alongside Margaret while further developing her Albanian language. I will have the main focus of intensive language learning for my first year. The team's vision is to see Albania and Albanians affected by Christ and His character - seeing the light and life of Jesus reach into Albania and made alive.

My hearts vision is the same - but at the forefront is a concern for children at risk. All that we do will have these things in mind and I will work hard at learning the language and trust God with all He will open up before me in the year to come. I believe He will open up fruitful relationships aswell as opening my heart and mind to the reality of the country and people of Albania. I want to see the best that I can in Albania but I know I will see the difficult and the wrong too, and I want to - but in an informed and compassionate way. I have much to trust God for - and it's the reason I am here.

So... we arrived in Shkodra. It was hot, lots of apartment blocks, some old parts of the town with worn out beautiful buildings, old style stores still in use - book shops and bakeries. In the more modern part - small food shops and cafes all wall to wall along the wide streets with tall apartment blocks. Sonya and Albani met us with smiles and hugs. They are a young Albanian Christian couple who belong to a church that although they don't know us have taken it upon themselves to welcome and help us come to Shkodra. It is amazing how much friendship they are extending and we feel very blessed. Sonya is 24, tall and beautiful and very smart and warm hearted. She loves Jesus and wants to live for him, seeing him expressed in peoples lives. I took to her straight away, it was a great help seeing as I missed Anna and Catherine so very much that day.

We began walking - hoping to meet the arranged contacts, and as we waited in a park a young lad peddled up - his name was Noah, pronounced No-ae-ah. He had been cycling around all day to help us find a house. He had soft, gentle eyes, must have been about 15 years old, loved Jesus and wanted to help and serve without a second thought - it was in his nature. Soon he was leading us to our first viewing. It was off the main road, down a potholed street, up to an old communist style appartment block and painted above the entrance in pale pink paint was GERMANY - must have been there for the football. Up we climbed, and I felt so alone. We steped in through a steel door and there were two rooms filled with furniture - old chairs and a bed, some bunkbeds and a table. There was a bathroom with a hole in the floor and a kitchen with a walled sink that was crumblimg. It was small and compact - I looked for a balcony and the view was other appartment blocks. The family who owned it spoke strongly about all it's benifits and I began to try and imagine myself living there. As I walked back down the stairs my legs began to shake, weak beneath me. I looked steadily forward, put on a brave face but when we were weaving in and out of market stalls going single file, my heart ached and I cried out to Jesus, for Him to hold me and take care of me. I felt His strong, loving and reassuring hand with me and silently I let my tears fall.

The next place was much nicer - in an older part of town near the mountains with many fruit trees in the yard and very close to where Sonya and Albani lives. I was asked to make a decision and though it didn't fill my heart with joy I figured that no place in Albania would immediately be all I dream of, so I decided yes. We waited in a cafe for the next hour or so and them I had to go back to sign documents for renting the apartment. It was decided that Sonya, Noah and I would go to do this. As we stood outside gathering ourselves together to go a strong whirling wind began to rumble, blowing rubbish and dust up in circles in the air and the skies were are a darkening blue-grey. As we pushed the two bikes along the road the rain pelted down and down and down! Thunder cracked and lightling lit up the sky and torrents of rain fell. Sonya hurried along worriedly, I just was amazed and hurried and laughed as did Noah. He kept exclaiming "oh - wha!" as they do here and he would duck his head down, glance over to me and grin widely! It was the best I had felt all day!

It turned out that the contract for the house was not at all legal - so we couldn't accept it. We ate spagetti at Sonya and Albans house and 8 hours later got back into the Land Rover for the journey back south. It felt like the first day of my new Albanian life. I got home and was exhausted, missed my friends, missed my family and fell of to sleep and to sleep.

The following days have introduced Bible studies and fellowship times with Margaret and Judith, sitting on the steps with the mother and daughter who live below Margarets house, talking to a young gypsy boy who sells cassttes at the end of the road where I get the bus to Tirana. I'm often jumping on and off the fugon minibuses to get to Tirana to do emails or any other town work that needs doing. I was at church yesterday with a bus load of people from Bathore who go to a church near by. I'm meeting people, talking with them, finding my feet, enjoying Albania. Margaret, Judith and I are all praying about the move to Shkodra, the right timing of it, the right house. We wonder if it will be a three story villa - where each of us with have a level to ourselves. I really like that idea. God knows what is best and what is perfect and what fits in with His plans - and that is what we are asking Him for. I do have great expectations of all that is ahead. God has me here for a reason. To Shkodra and to the North!

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