Monday, 27 March 2017

Gjirokaster, city of stone

Last Friday Ann and I got a furgon, minibus, to Gjirokaster in southern Albania. We left Elbasan at midday and travelled for almost 4 hours for 1000 Lek each, about £6.50. We travelled to see Jorida Doce a young

woman we have known for 10 years. Jorida was a teenager when we first met, but has been to University and now is the manager of a Christian childrens home in that city. Here is Jorida with Ann. We think that she is

an outstanding young woman with leadership gifting. She wanted to come on our Academy a couple of years ago but was not granted a visa. We chatted at length about the small church she attends in Gjirokaster and the tasks she is being asked to do and her hopes and dreams for the future. As we talked we walked through the old town part of the city. Gjirokaster is known for three things in Albania. Firstly it is a city built entirely of stone, which is sometimes then covered in plaster. Not a brick or breeze block in sight. Stone walls, stone tiled roofs, roads made of cobblestones and NOTHING, I mean NOTHING is on the level. You either walk uphill or downhill, never on the flat. It is so steep in parts that you can literally fall over onto the roof of a house, roll down the roof onto the roof of another house and so on. Secondly it was home to the best known Albanian author Ismail Kadare. I have read a number of his books which I have found very helpful in understanding Albania. And thirdly, it was the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the communist leader who ruled Albania for many years.

This is what some of the buildings and roads look like.

 

After an evening meal together we returned to our hotel, and the following morning Jorida brought us back to Elbasan before she travelled on to her home in Tirana to meet her mother who had just returned from Greece.
On the Saturday whilst we were traveling back to Elbasan, Ilir Koçi in Elbasan had organised a get together for young people aged 20+ from Elbasan, Librazhd, Korce and Tirana. It was a part teaching time about relationships and part informal time for them together. Ilir and Rudina see this as vital in a culture and country that is changing form Muslim in thinking where marriages are arranged, to a situation where Christian young people want to marry another Christian. These are the kind of issues that Ann and I talk through with Ilir and Rudina in our coffee times together or over the meal table. It is helping to give new ideas, think biblically and work matters out practically for the benefit of the people and church here in Albania.
Now the end of another day and looking forward to what God has in store for tomorrow.
Ken and Ann
 
 
 

 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ohrid, Охрид, Macedonia

Today Ann and me with Ilir Koçi have been to Ohrid, Macedonia and back. In May Catrina Benham speaks at the two day ladies UNIKE Conference in Tirana, Albania. A week later Catrina will be speaking at our first ladies Conference in Skopje, Macedonia that will gather women from Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria. Should she fly home from Tirana (there aren't direct flights every day) only to fly out again a couple of days later to Skopje (again there aren't direct flights daily). All round we decided it best that Catrina travel on from Tirana and stay for a few days at Ohrid, Macedonia by the lake of the same name giving her time to catch up with herself. Ann and I have been to Ohrid a few times and know what a nice place it is for a few days. Other people are catching on. WIZZ air now fly here to the Saint Paul the Apostle airport and the Rough Guide recently named it as one of 20 best places to see in Europe on a budget.

From Elbasan in Albania, the road climbs continually to the still snow topped mountains that divide Albania and Macedonia and the border crossing. We were able to get a taxi from the Macedonian side (they are not always there) to Ohrid. We arrived by the lakeside to see and hear hordes of kindergarten aged children gathered with their parents being entertained near the statue of Saint Clement of Ohrid. I am not sure what he would have made of it!
St Clement was a disciple of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Greeks, who invented the forerunner of the Cyrillic script in their endeavours to reach the Slav people for Christ and the Orthodox Church. In coming to Macedonia one has stepped into the world of the Cyrillic script, the alphabet that Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian are written in.
We had come to check out a number of hotels that line the lakeside. To read reports on Tripadvisor is one thing but we wanted to see how big the rooms are, how clean they are, check out the facilities, is there air con, does everything work, and if they really have a view of the lake!
Having exchanged some money and checked out five hotels, (I could show photos of bedrooms, balconies, and bathrooms galore,) it was time for lunch in the increasing heat, 26C by lunchtime. Below is a classic in this part of the world Shopska salad. Macedonian meals are pretty hearty affairs often beginning with soup and then salad. Shopska salad is a salad made with tomato, cucumber, peppers and onions cut small drenched in a grated mild sirene cheese. It is the most recognisable and best known salad in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and even in Romania. This is followed by the main course often of some form of smoked pork meat, chops, sausages etc.
My main course was liver and bacon with rice and unsurprisingly, macedoine.
on
Here is Ann enjoying her lunch
 
And here are Ann and Ilir by the lakeside with part of Ohrid in the background, as it climbs up the hill to a castle that overlooks the city.
And finally before we caught a taxi back to the Macedonian border, a last look at a statue of Saints Cyril and Methodius who were key in seeing this part of Europe impacted by Orthodox Christianity.
May Catrina and Marija who leads the Conference in May, hugely impact the women who will hear them for the building of the church in today's world.
 Бог да те благослови
God bless you.
Ken and Ann

 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Young people and more young people

Whenever we are in Elbasan we do our best to visit Arti and Vali and their daughters Era and Elsa. We rented an apartment from them the first time we came to Elbasan and we have remained friends. Each time we go we are offered Turkish coffee and a glass of raki and something to eat. They know Ann is gluten free so they offered her some ballakume Elbasani which is made with maize flour. But no raki for me, because I am taking penicillin for my infected foot.

I asked Elsa for her help in buying a cheap phone to use in Albania. My Albanian SIM card for some inexplicable reason doesn't work in my phone. Earlier I had gone to a Vodafone shop in Elbasan where mobile phones are displayed with prices shown and asked to buy one. Their answer? We don't sell phones! Sorry about the pun. But Elsa knew where to go, to a Vodafone shop run by a cousin of hers and a cheap phone was duly bought. At last I am in contact with the the rest of Albania!

Next stop was to travel to the neighbouring town of Librazhd to meet and speak to the young people of Librazhd Community Church. This is the door to their building

and here are some of the young people with Ann. At the front next to Ann is Nerila who was one of the initial 5 young people we met from Librazhd who came to our first Youth Camp and became a follower of Jesus. Now she is living and working in Tirana.

And the rest of the group are here. Notice that there a good number of guys! Some of the church youth invited their friends and this is the result. The Librazhd church has probably been the most evangelistic of the youth groups we have known over the years, and they have seen many become Christ followers. I spoke from the life of Joseph who was just 17 when his brothers threw him in a pit and the story of his amazing, turbulent, God led journey through life began.
Then back to Elbasan by taxi, paid for by the young people. By 5.30pm few people want to travel and getting an inter town minibus, a furgon, is difficult, virtually impossible. And back to another group of young people!
The Elbasan youth were doing Youth Alfa and thoroughly enjoying it. This group is led by Mundi, back row third from left. Mundi came to a concert that we did in the theatre in Elbasan about 8 years ago, Matt Price led the band. What was said intrigued him, he came to the youth camp and then became a Christian on an Alpha course run by the Elbasan church. Now he is the youth pastor.
A hot chocolate and lemon tea with Ilir the church leader and then Ann and I had a meal out. Risotto seemed to be the order of the day. Yes it has got a piece of a strawberry and a chunk of radish on top! But my, was it tasty.
And so back to the apartment and another day draws to a close. I wonder what God has in store for tomorrow?
God bless you!
Ken and Ann
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Springtime in Elbasan

 

Ann and I are here again in Elbasan, Albania but this year a little earlier than would normally be the case. One of the key events in 2017 for us is that my sister and her husband from Auckland, New Zealand come to stay with us in mid May for 6 weeks. This has made us look at our diary and plan accordingly. So here we're in Albania in mid March a month or 6 weeks earlier than usual. We left the grey skies of the U.K. on Wednesday morning and have arrived to blue skies and sunshine and warmth in the day. 18C at midday, but the clear skies mean a low of 2C at night!. Ann has been to the pazaar, open air fruit and veg market (bazaar is a enclosed market) and bought local fresh strawberries, all ripe and juicy.

It is similar with the tomatoes, which are red and really ripe all through, along with the lemons and madarins Ann purchased.
We were met at the airport by Tomor and Miranda Ajeti who run Victory Church, Tirana. It is Miranda who leads the Ladies Conference UNIKE that Catrina Benham will come to speak at in early May. A nice surprise was also to be met by Ida Ashley's sister Mira and her husband George. Ida and Tom were on the same flight as us and have come to see her parents for a few days. For those who don't know, Ida and Tom are part of Kerith. A lunch of fish soup and then fresh fish was to follow with Miranda and Tomor, before getting our transport to Elbasan. Here we were met by Ilir Koçi who leads the church Joshua Mission in Elbasan and helped us with our cases into the apartment.
We almost didn't come to Albania. We were all set to come but on Monday this week my left foot swelled up for seemingly no reason so that I was in real pain and hobbling about. Ann persuaded me to go to the doctor, (why do men need persuading?) who said I had an infection and has given me a strong dose of penicillin. I am much improved but regularly plunge my foot into a bowl of cold water to cool my foot down. No you don't need to see a photo!!
Tomorrow Saturday, we will go to Librazhd and meet many of the young people we know from that church. We have been coming for 10 years now, so many of those who were teenagers when we first came have finished schooling, been to university or college and now are in employment and looking to marry! But what is great that they have evangelised and seen many other young people now take their place in the church following in their footsteps. Sunday I will speak at the church here in Elbasan and catch up with many people we know.
How do we know it is springtime in Albania? It is warm in the sunshine but the air itself is cold and the tops of the mountains that surround Elbasan are still covered in sparkling white snow. But at the end of April and early May, God turns a switch, and suddenly the air is warm, the snow has gone and the long summer has begun, just in time for Catrina to arrive for the Ladies Conference!
God bless you! Zoti bekoft!
Ken and Ann
 
 

 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Albania Weekend Away, Tushemishte

Sunday morning saw our final sessions after breakfast. Firstly Liam led a session on letting the Holy Spirit work in your life...

which the young people took to heart.
Then coffee, cold drinks and yet more cakes.
This was followed by Heather and Liam leading a Question and Answer session. Questions ranged from How did you get into church leadership and what advice have you to give? to How do you find the right marriage partner for your life?

The whole Weekendwas also a great time for friendship making, meeting some people for the first time and renewing friendships with others.

 

Time for our last meal together which we eat outside under cover from the heat but by the side of Lake Ohrid. Here are Heather, Sarah and Dan about to sit down and have lunch.

It is simple food but very good. First it was spaghetti with butter topped with cheese, followed by soup,

then a salad of grated cabbage, tomato, cucumber, cheese, lettuce and olives and finally qofte (home made beef burgers without the bun) with meat gravy.

The whole Weekend was great. I know they all enjoyed being in a more adult setting as befits their age, a good hotel by the side of the lake with just 2 or 3 to a room rather than the dormitories we have at Youth Camp. Real time between sessions to make friends; topics more suited to their age, and hearing from young leaders such as Liam and Heather not just speaking at sessions but answering questions and being open about themselves. All these things combined together with bringing biblical truth and prayer I believe will help these Albanian young people make God more real in their every day life but also help build the Kingdom of God in Albania. Ann and I really enjoyed it too!!

Ken

 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Albania Weekend Away, Tushemishte

After a night of rest and a wonderful breakfast it was time for our first session today Saturday in the Hotel Millennium. Here is Ann outside the Hotel.

Heather, on the right, spoke at the first session and challenged us to get out of our comfort zone and be on an adventure with God.
Coffee break came with wonderful cakes.
 
 

Here is Dan after coffee with some of the young people from Librazhd.

Our worship times are led by Mirjana Herri from Bethel church, Tirana.
And then our second session was led by Ilir Koçi from Elbasan, here on the right. Ilir spoke about the key decisions we make in our twenties especially finding the right partner in life.
in the afternoon many of the young people walked across the nearby border into Macedonia to Sveti Naum, Saint Naum, a picturesque small monastery where peacocks roam free. They returned from their walk in the afternoon heat just in time for our evening meal. This consisted of salad, then soup of rice, lemon, yoghurt, and egg, followed by beef and potatoes, finished off with a plateful of melon and watermelon. At lunchtime we had salad, soup, freshly cooked local trout and creme caramel for dessert.
Here are Alice, Sarah, Heather and Ann recovering after the meal.
Liam took our final session today challenging us to know afresh the power of the Holy Spirit so we are enabled to impact the world around us. A wonderful finish to a wonderful day!

 

Tushemishte, Albania Weekend Away for 18-30's

This weekend we are holding our very first Albania Weekend Away. For 8 years we have been holding a Youth Camp in Albania for the young people from the churches we have contact with. But last year I took a look at some of them and thought, this is sad, but you are no longer teenagers!! It is time to hold a separate weekend event for those who are 18+, and so this weekend was planned.

Ann and I with Heather Pocock flew out on Wednesday of this week and Liam Parker our Youth Pastor and a team of four, Sarah, Alice, Max and Dan flew out on Thursday into a hot Albania. We met up in Elbasan and once settled into their hotel we went for a meal together.

A good night's rest and then we were on our way with Ilir Koçi the church leader and their 18-30's from Elbasan to the Millennium Hotel, Tushemishte. Half way and it was time for a break and a cold drink. Here are Alice and Sarah.

and here is Dan, looking suitably cool and Heather.

Here are Heather, Liam and Dan in the Hotel reception. It is a really nice place. Air conditioned, right by the side of Lake Ohrid, very nice rooms and our evening meal was eaten in the shade outside looking over the lake, with mountains in the background. What's not to like?

Here are all of us from Bracknell before our Friday lunchtime meal. From l to r, Max, Ann, me, Dan, Sarah, Heather, Liam and Alice.

Here are Paola and Arselda from Librazhd who were at our very first Youth Camp and have been every year since.

Our meal time was a time for reunions; some of the guys we had not seen since last year, but these girls from Tirana were at UNIKE in May this year when Catrina Benham and some of our ladies spoke at the Conference in Tirana.

And below, some of the young people we know from Elbasan.

Our evening meal consisted of Greek salad, chicken soup with pasta in it, chicken fillet with potatoes and vegetables and finally a dessert called three milks. I have a picture of it here. It is like cheesecake without the biscuit base only it's not! More like a milky scrambled egg, only it's not! I give up. But it' s nice.

Time for me to go and get ready as I speak at the first session this evening. God spoke to Ann and me in a life changing way when we went to an 18-30 Weekend away when we were 24 years old. May God speak just as clearly this weekend!

Please pray for these young people. The future generation of the church in Albania depends on young people such as these.

Ken and Ann