Sunday, 8 November 2009

Mosaics




Ever wondered what the church building in Antioch in Paul's day ever looked like? Well yesterday we went to see the cave where it is believed the early church met. Nothing impressive at all really. It is said to be built by St Luke but is called St Peter's Grotto! ! Now it has been taken over by the Catholic Capuchin monks, the Pope has visited it and now that I have too, I can claim an indulgence from my time in purgatory!!?? Antakya is known for its mosaics and in the local museum is one of the best collections of mosaics from around the time of Christ to be found anywhere. Room after room of huge, say 30 ft x 30 ft, beautiful and impressive mosaics, either abstract patterns or of people and animals. We all went shopping in the bazaar for pipes to connect to the stove in the house...nothing exotic! The smells of spices and cooked food fill the air. Don't think of small narrow streets like some Arab bazaars you may have been to, these are wide, clean broad streets with sizeable shops selling absolutely everything. The atmosphere is good and friendly not threatening in any way.

Josef and Elin are in the process of building friendships here all the time. I have never "walked across the room" so many times in such short space of time. Usually it is a walk across the street, a talk with a barber, a restaurant owner, a shopkeeper, boys we meet in the street, officials at the museum, stallholders in the bazaar and so on. Conversation is a wonderful mixture of Turkish, English and sign language. They have only been here really since the summer and have already made an amazing number of friends. People are easily and eagerly invited round to visit or to a meal or meet up again. Last night two Filipino ladies came round with their daughter as they are helping arrange a Karaoke evening, all part of reaching more people.

Between times and in the evenings we talk together about how to develop things, reaching people, the needs they have, clarity of vision, and what to put in place.

As I write this yet again the call of the muezzin goes out across the city from the many mosques. We are impressed with what we have seen of Antakya. The streets are really clean, the streets in the bazaar are swept clean all the time. Even on the small minibuses (dolmus) that run round the city carry a brush inside them and the conductor who takes your money keeps it spotless. It is a modern city in every way with latest cars available, traffic jams, and all that goes to make a modern Mediterranean city. Because of the wonderful climate there are solar panels and water tanks on every roof.

Antakya is near the Syrian border and between the 1st and 2nd World wars was run by the French. So in food and buildings there is a wonderful mixture of French colonial style, Arabic and Turkish with other influences like Armenian thrown in.

This afternoon we met with about 25 friends and I spoke with them, and then we ate together. It was great to meet people, especially 2 men who came for the first time, and hear their stories. Now sadly we must leave our new friends and tomorrow morning early, 3.45 am, get up and fly back to Istanbul. We will see you soon!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Turkish delight!





Well folks we are now ın Antakya! We are on our fourth day in Turkey having slept in 3 different beds in 3 consecutive nights. Don't worry, I won't show you a photo of the beds! On our first evening in Istanbul on Monday, we caught up with a friend who told us much of what he ıs doıng and plannıng. Tuesday we then flew on here to Antakya, formerly Antioch, a city of 180,000 people. We are staying with Josef and Elin who invited us here when we met last July. Antakya is in Hatay province next to Syria. The weather has just changed from the heat of summer to the rain and mildness of winter, though still warm when the sun comes out. After catching up with each other on Wednesday morning we then went to a friends house in the afternoon and helped them install a sob, a stove that warms the house. As more and more people came so we shared some things with the them that are on our heart. Later in the afternoon we went onto a sea side town called Cevlik which was formerly Seleucia, where the Apostle Paul set sail for Cyprus, Acts 13 v 4. There we met some more friends from a number of different countries and had a meal together. We all stayed overnight, and then spent Thursday until mid afternoon talking, singing, praying and encouraging each other. Four of our friends were baptised in cold water as the sea was too rough! It was great to make new friends and a challenge at times to communicate with many different languages being spoken. After this Ann and I did a spot of sight seeing! In Roman times Emperor Vespasian ordered a tunnel to be cut through solid rock to divert flood water from Seleucia to the sea. It was finished by his son Titus, hence Titus's tunnel. It is 1,500 yards long, 23 ft high and 20 ft wide and is impressive. We walked part of the way up the tunnel cum cutting clambering over boulders and rocks which are strewn all along the tunnel floor. This is not Ann's favourite cup of tea! Back then to Antakya, supper and bed. Now, Friday, we are about to go to the local bazaar. Will be in touch soon.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

And finally...for now...






Ann and I thought it would be good to round off this series of blogs with some further information. We have focused quite rightly on Ethos playing at the Youth Camp. But we want you to know there were many other things going at the same time.

On our first day there, Ann and I had lunch with some friends Aleksander and Elena from Macedonia. They had come over the border with two of their friends to see us and catch up with what we are doing. The photo shows us having lunch together. Soon they will move to a church in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, and they have asked us to go and see them there. Aleksander is an evangelist and we have already met the senior pastor of their new church.
Not only did we transport our own guitar cases and equipment to Albania, but we took out two pieces of equipment that we left there. Edi and Artina from Korca had asked our church to provide them with a laptop computer with the usual software and some song software too. Colin Boyle our Fine Arts Director sorted the song software for them. This will be a huge help to them and raise the quality and capability of what they can do. The only computer they have had the use of was one they borrowed from Artina's workplace.
We also paid for and flew out a 16 input mixer desk for Roberti and Mira's church in Lezhe. Roberti (Robert is English, but a male name in Albanian usually ends in the letter i ) not only plays keyboard in his own church but usually at all the church gatherings in Albania he attends. They don't have a mixer desk and anyway cannot get one of the quality that we are used to here in the UK.
We also took out face paints for the children's work in Elbasan, as well as children's medicines and 4 rolls of wallpaper and wallpaper paste! You wouldn't believe what we have in our suitcases sometimes!
At the Youth Camp Roberti suggested to the other church leaders that the musicians from the churches get together soon. Not all churches know the same songs, which is the same here of course, and many of the songs that were originally written in English, have been translated differently by different people. The Albanians also want to write their own songs and encourage one another in this and maybe also use Albanian musical instruments! That will be exciting and a different sound.
When will we next go to Albania? We are not sure, maybe in the late autumn. Meanwhile we are planning for church leaders Roberti and Mira and Ilir and Donika to come to the Willow DVD conference here in Bracknell. It is so exciting to be part of building the Kingdom of God.
Thank you for your comments and e-mails. They are a huge encouragement to us. With much love,
Ken and Ann








Ethos returning


On Saturday morning we worshipped God and then we prayed in turn for each church represented at the Youth Camp. Finally we prayed for Ethos. There were many words of encouragement for people personally and for churches as a whole.


Edi Morava from Korca, who had the desire and vision in the first place for this Youth Camp, then called for people to respond to God's call to them to give their life to Him. Eleven girls and nine guys responded. Here are some of the girls who came forward...

and here are some of the guys. The guy on the right is jumping for joy!

Then sadly it was time to say our farewells. This is never done quickly in Albania! But at last we got on our way to Elbasan for lunch. As we travelled we were able to enjoy the amazing mountainous countryside. It had been dark when we arrived 5 days earlier and we had not seen just how stunnung it is. Lunch was whole roast lamb, head and everything, (yes you can eat the brains if you wish), Greek salad and chips. It went down well. It certainly got eaten quickly. Then a walk to the swimming pool to chill out.


It is not just that there is blue, blue sky and real heat, but again one is surrounded by mountains on all sides. It is such an attractive setting. As I was swimming in the pool, I met Ilir the leader of the church from Librazhd. He was amazed to see me and I him. Librazhd is where the 4 girls and 1 guy came from. (Photo on the first blog). He told me they talked none stop about the camp on the way home. All four girls have became Christians and they experienced the Holy Spirit in their life! They had read about this in their Alpha course they had been doing, but now they said we have experienced Him for ourselves. Wow! Ann and I chatted to Ilir and Donika who would like to come to the Willow Creek DVD conference.


After a swim it was definitely chill out time!
Then into yet another furgon (minibus), and on our way to Rinas airport near Tirana. A good flight home, a few slept, and then into Gatwick, collect our bags and Mick Wade met us at 11pm. Was it worth it? All that energy, planning, money, time, perspiration, preparation? Absolutely!! I am sure the guys will tell you for themselves, but for me I would do that all again any day!

Ethos were excellent, not just in their musical ability, but in their humility, openness, friendliness, kindness and giving of themselves. They were a credit not only to themselves but to their families, to our church and above all to God himself.
We have already been invited back for next year! And we look forward to catching up with you personally.
Lots of love,
Ken and Ann





Friday, 31 July 2009

Ethos on song



We thought you would like to see where our guys are actually staying. So here is the accommodation and eating block. Ann and I have just put our heads in the room Ethos have and well... if you have a son you can imagine what the room after 2 days with 8 guys in it is looking like. I didn't take a photo!



This building holds the main hall on the first floor with sliding screens just as we have at the Kerith Centre, only more modern. The screens are white and magnetic so can be used as white boards and for fixing things to it easily.


Then the volleyball court which was used last night starting at 11pm! with a volleyball tournament between the six churches here. I think they all slept well afterwards.




Last night, Thursday, we had another great time of worship, then Lee spoke on how you can know Jesus for yourself if you do not know him. He also called for a response if one is already a Christian. Nearly all the young people responded openly to what was said. This was followed by praying with the young people for a quite a while.



Here is Arta (Artina) from Korce praying with one of the girls.



This morning, {I almost forgot to tell you that we wake each day to blue sky and warmth, with the mountains close by and the lakeside 200 metres away}, Liam spoke on the Holy Spirit. Here is Zak helping with an illustration.



And here are some of the young people listening to Liam speak. Liam also called for response and we spend time asking the Holy Spirit to come upon all of us. Words of encouragement were spoken to many. This time was followed by another session of workshops. Here is Emily and the girls who were with her.


Hudson and David spoke on worship to a very keen group of guys and girls who for the most part are already involved in worship in their local church. They were all still talking when everyone else had gone for lunch!



Liam and Zac followed their talk on the Holy Spirit by further session on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.


This afternoon has been a free time, when some catch up on their sleep, others go for a swim in the lake, yet others walk into Pogradec itself, whilst others build friendships by sitting and talking. Young people and leaders alike are saying what an excellent time they are having. I think wonderful relationships are being built, church leaders with church leaders, young people from one church with others, our relationship with the churches in Albania but above all our personal realtionship with Jesus.
Another worship time this evening and then tomorrow, sadly we will have to pack our bags and be on our way home. We are organising a couple of treats for the team. Roast lamb on the spit with Greek salad with chips for lunch, then a time in a really nice swiming pool. I think they deserve it!
There may just be time for one more blog!
See you soon,
Ken and Ann










Thursday, 30 July 2009

Ethos has landed...


in Albania! Here we are at the start of our journey on Tuesday at Gatwick airport. We got all our guitars transported for free, which was great. Then a 3 hour flight to Rinas airport in Albania. Vaso from Edi's church in Korca met us at the airport. A 2 hr journey over the mountains took us to Elbasan where we met Ilir, the church leader and Arjan. Elbasan is the city Ann and I spend most of our time in Albania. We had coffee and a bite to eat and then another 2 hrs to Pogradec arriving about 1am! A long day!


People started arriving on Wednesday morning from the 6 churches represented from all over Albania. Our first session together was in the afternoon followed by our evening meal, spaghetti Bolognaise, and then another worship session which really took off!


Our guys were brilliant to get it together technically when nearly everything they needed was not there on arrival. But the drum kit appeared, so did the microphones, a bass amp and so on. You can see they are a bit cramped for space and it is hot! Worship is in Albanian and English. Hudson has done really well in leading worship with this mixture.



Our guys travelled well, and ate well but sleep was a bit difficult the first night with the heat. But they went for a swim in the lake to cool down. This morning after our worship we had workshops all led by our team. Here is Emily with some of her group. She spoke on Pathways.




And here are Zac and Stuart with some of their group. They led a session on personal evangelism. Lee spoke on "Even though your group is small you can make a big difference" and Hudson on "Worship as a lifestyle". So you can see they are all getting stuck in.




Lastly, for the moment, here are a group from a small church in Librazhd that Ann and I visited in May. They were just starting an Alpha course in a house and they are with us today because we visited them and invited them. Pray it will be life changing for them and for all of us here.
Lots of love, and we will be in touch.
Ken and Ann




Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Final bits and pieces







Thank you so much for your comments. They have encouraged us in our time here. It is amazing who our blog reaches. My sister and brother in law in NZ read it. They told me that when they saw the photo of mushmula they recognised it as is kumquat. Indeed it seems that mushmula is the Russian word for the fruit.
We read Simon and Catriona's blog of Serenje and feel the same, namely that we are in a completely different culture even though we are in Europe, with different ways of thinking let alone different climate. We have been to Greece before on holiday at this time of the year, but to live in the heat week after week, to work and think and operate in the heat with no air conditioning in our rooms and live at a different pace of life and try and ensure that we keep understanding and communicating well with all the people we meet is a challenge.
Last night I had a good time with the main church leader here talking several things through. Tonight will be a Q and A with some of the guys followed by the Champions League football final! Whilst Ann will meet with the pastors wife Rudina and their 3 girls Sara, Eliada and Abigaila and they will go out for coffee and ice cream and chat. The streets are almost completely empty mid afternoon but are brimming with people, children included, in the evening all out walking and talking until late.
Some other differences. There are so few schools that a school will have 3 or even 4 lots of children per day in 3 or 4 hour batches from say 7.30 am to 7.30 pm. It is strange to see crocodile lines of children during school time walking somewhere at 5.30pm say. They have lots of homework with school time spent mainly checking homework.
Notices of deaths are posted in the street, see photo above.
Very few people have gardens as they live in apartments and so help themselves to flowers growing in public parks! Sellers set up their stalls under any available tree in the park or street to set out their wares whether shoes, second hand clothes, food and fruit, pots and kitchen implements, raki and even holly leaves! I asked what they were selling the dried holly leaves for and the answer?....as back scratchers! Ouch! Anything to get a living!
Do you ever wonder where all the Ford transit vans, cars, buses and lorries go to die? Well here in Albania. Without being critical 90% of all vehicles here would instantly fail an MOT. Driving standards are slowly improving as more younger people who have had driving lessons and a test take to the road. Several years ago drivers needed no test and it shows. It is hair raising at times as you sit in a minibus with other vehicles headed straight for you playing the game of who will give way first.
Washing up! Afterwards we put the pots and pans etc into cupboards that contain drying racks. The air is so dry that even in winter things dry quickly.
We could give you photo after photo of ponies and traps, three wheeled motorcycles that have been converted to carry clothes, rubbish, fruit and veg etc. And litter not just paper, but clothes and shoes no longer wanted by the sellers just left anywhere for someone else one day to clear away. Meanwhile the piles get bigger and the smell increases. Keeping the law? I am writing this in a non smoking Internet cafe, only it isn't! Every restaurant like the UK is non smoking only they aren't. Apparently they kept the law for a month and then nobody bothered. People drive the wrong way up one way streets all the time!
But there are many joys. The friendliness of the people is one. We have just had an off the cuff conversation with 4 young women in the park, top photo, who are all studying Social Work at University. We could talk all day as they practice their English on us. Tonight we say our farewells to many friends here in Elbasani.
On Friday we travel to Lezhe to see Robert and Mira again, and on Sunday go to a March for Jesus in Fushe Arrez and talk to leaders of another church before heading off to the airport and back to cooler climes where our son Simon will meet us at Gatwick.
The whole time has been worthwhile and valuable as we see churches, leaders and people, strengthened and encouraged. God has been very good to us. See you soon.
Ken and Ann

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Over the border





On Saturday we took a furgon, minibus, early to avoid the heat of the day, and got to Qafe e Thane the border point where we met Edi, Artina and Flori their worship leader, coming from Korca. Then we crossed the border out of Albania and into Macedonia. See photo above. Don't think of border crossings like traveling from France to Belgium, where you drive through the border in a moment or even England France where you have check points leaving and entering but close together. Here there are check points but they are a good walk apart, half a mile or in some places a mile apart. You cannot see one border crossing point to the next as it is round a bend in the road and out of sight. You could set up camp in no man's land! I have seen motorists changing their car number plates between leaving one country and entering the next and shepherds with flocks of sheep! Then a taxi ride to Ohrid. My guide book says Ohrid is the jewel in Macedonia's crown. It is their main lakeside resort, cultural centre and holiday destination especially to escape the heat of summer. It is an ancient city with a castle and has UNESCO heritage status.
We booked into the accommodation Edi and Arta often use, and then they took us on a long walk. We walked through the old town and upto the castle which I thought was just stunning with its view over the town and Lake Ohrid. Then back to town and a late lunch under the shade of a large tree. One way we can tell we are out of Albania is the food on offer. Gone are the salads with everything. We are now eating Slav food. (Russian, Polish, Bulgarian etc) Wonderful bowls of hot soup if you wish, even on a hot day, quantities of beer being drunk with gusto as in any northern European city on a hot day rather than wine, and huge platefuls of hearty food. Meat, sausages, boiled potatoes and vegetables, with sour cream! Then back for a lie down/sleep as it was so hot and we had got up at 5.30. A siesta is part of the daily routine here all year round. Then at 8pm we went our for a bite to eat and to meet up with the guys and girls Edi and Arta have gathered. They catch up on news and talk about the everyday and the serious, building relationships, and asking questions. We walk and talk and have coffee. Eventually we say our farewells at well past midnight. It is some of these young people who we look to have come to the Youth Camp in July and renew friendship with them.
Come the morning Edi, Arta and Flori pack their bags and head home for their own meetings on Sunday afternoon. We stay on as in the evening we are going to a Macedonian speaking church in a neighbouring town whose leaders we have met before. We knew it would be different as Macedonian is written in a version of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet and so totally incomprehensible to us!! We recognised some of the worship songs though and sang along in English! The meeting was translated for us by a wonderful young woman who was a delight to talk to. It is so interesting to see where they are as a church and hear what God is doing. Then they helped us get a local cheap taxi and we return to our room.
The next morning we travel amazingly well by taxis and furgon so that we are back in Elbasani 2 hours after leaving Ohrid. When you can wait an hour or more for a minibus this is no small miracle.
One of the challenges of Macedonia is that there are two main groups of people. The Macedonian speaking who are the great majority and who would automatically consider themselves Orthodox Christian, and the Albanian speaking who would automatically be considered Muslim. So the idea of being Albanian speaking and being a Christian is unthinkable and so is the one of being Macedonian speaking but a Christian who is not Orthodox.
Now we are into our last week here and final meetings with leaders here and in other towns. There are conversations to finish off, farewells to say, wisdom to give, questions to answer, experiences to share and love to give.
Finally for today. Remember the swimming pool we checked out? It is wonderful. We couldn't believe it! Now a bite of lunch and then time to cool down in the pool!
Ken and Ann

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Mushmulla







Just a few photos of some of the buildings here. First a traditional Turkish style home, now the Ethnographic Museum here in Elbasani. Traditionally Turkish homes were 2 or 3 storey buildings. Animals, storage and workshops on the ground floor with living space above. There are separate rooms for men and women to sit, entertain and eat, but a bedroom of course. And then a large wide airy balcony where one sits in the heat of the day. Turkish mosques are of similar design here that is to say they look like a house with no minarets. Minarets have been added only in recent years and look completely out of place in the overall design of the building.
Now pallati, multi storey high rise blocks of flats are going up everywhere. Sadly there seems to very little thought as to there positioning. It seems it is all about making as much money as possible out of one piece of land.
And then a photo of the church building that is going up. You are seeing part of the ground floor with windows, doors, electric fitments, plumbing, tiling and painting yet to be done. Work is done as money comes available, though they are hopeful it will be complete and ready to use by the end of the year if not sooner. The local cement factory has just donated several tons of cement that they will deliver! When I went yesterday they were fixing levels using the reliable but slow method of a plastic tube filled with water! No spirit levels or more modern means are available here. Credit to them though for working in the heat. It was 32C yesterday and humid with it. I spent time talking with the leaders about their building, some suggestions as things to think of, ways of doing things, keeping the vision before the people, praying for money and so on. They expressed their gratitude to me which I felt was entirely genuine.
I love new experiences! God is a God of surprises and freshness. New places, new people, new ways of doing things. Here is a new fruit we had never come across before. Mushmulla! We have no idea what it is called in English. It is fresh tasting and is available now at the same time as cherries. It has 2 or 3 quite big stones inside which I have kept to try and grow.
Now to try out the local swimming pool and cool down, if we can find it! We have been told it is very good.
Ken and Ann

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The heat is on...



The title was Ann's suggestion! We seem to spend our time buying bottles of water and trying to keep cool. The Italian ice cream here is wonderful 2 big cones for 70p!
On Sunday we were here in Elbasan. We had good worship led by Ilir above, and then I spoke again about Joseph and wearing the jacket/dress God has given us. Two guys in particular responded. They had both been working abroad and had almost as a consequence, (there are very few Albanian speaking churches in Italy or Greece), been away from God. They were pleased to be back with God's people and knowing again Gods love and restoration. They wanted to be the men God wants them to be. It was a good time.
Afterwards Ilir and Arjana, (Ariana), took us out for lunch. Ilir is one of the musicians I wanted to come to us but he was unable to get a visa. Arjana is involved in childrens work and works for a living with Home of Hope with 15 teenagers who live in and 20 day care children.
Then tea at the home of Gazim amd Adriana and their 3 children. It was hot in the house, vap as they call it here, whilst we had tea and Ann ate ballakuma, a cake that Adriana makes for Ann when we come. It is made with maize flour and something that traditionally is made only in Elbasan on 14th March. We feel it is a great privilege to be part of their lives and be in their homes and be called their friends. We love them lots.
The first photo shows the main street in Elbasan. Does it look different from Bracknell? It is now a paved pedestrian precinct and was formerly part of the via Egnatia, the Roman road from Rome to Constantinople, now Istanbul. The wall on the right is part of the remains of a Turkish fort. This is where people come in the evening when it is cooler for their giro, promenade, to walk and be seen and chat to friends. It is a deliberate daily social event, year round!
Now tonight I speak with the leaders about their church building and the plans for what they will do in it. Photos to follow...
Will keep in touch, Ken and Ann

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Go with the flow...


Back in Elbasan we really do notice the difference in temperature. It is hot by 10 am and soon after we are seeking shade rather than walking in the sun. It reminds us of when we went on holidays to Greece years ago. In case you wonder what we eat then let us say salads form a great part of the diet here and are presented at every meal. We headed off to the market on Thursday morning to get salatte jeshile which is lettuce, domato obviously tomatoes, presh which are giant spring onions about 18 inches high, qepe onions, and kastravets cucumber. Our Albanian is sufficient to order what weight we want or how many we want. Salads come in a variety of forms either sallate miks, your normal lettuce, onions, tomatoes, and cucumber or sallate fshati village salad that will have whatever is to hand but usually contains all the above with olives and white cheese like Greek feta cheese. This is our favourite. There is sallate turshi which has pickled white cabbage and pickled gerkins in it, sallate rus, Russian salad with cold vegetables in mayonnaise and so on. Salad is put on the table at every meal time. You can even get it for breakfast. The fruit is also wonderful because apart from bananas everything is fresh and local or grown say within 60 miles. Yesterday we had the first of the cherries, and bought some kiwi fruit. I don't go much on kiwi fruit usually but these are something else. They are really big and juicy and delightful. Together with strawberries these are the main fresh fruit available at the moment. June sees peaches and apricots and early apples, July brings the first big figs and grapes which continue through the summer and then autumn brings apples from the cooler mountains, pomegranates and citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons and the wonderful blood oranges.
We spend time then in the Internet cafe catching up on emails and sending some, and writing our blog. Whatever is happening in the UK could just as well be a million miles away! I phone my mother who tells me it is cold in the UK and she has had the heating on and it is pouring with rain. And we are doing our best to walk in the shade!
Just before 5pm we walk to Ilir and Rudinas, me to go for a walk with Ilir and talk whilst Ann goes to a women's Bible study come homegroup in the house. We are spotted in the street by Vali and Elsa, our former landlady and one her daughters and they invite us for coffee and raki later in the evening. By 7.30pm the ladies have finished and Ilir and I have covered all manner of topics concerning church life, so we go withe the flow and we head off at 8pm to the home of Arti and Vali, and Era and Elsa the two daughters aged 16 and 18 who both speak English. They are delighted to see us again and we drink Turkish coffee in small cups with a small glass of raki, the liqueur that Albanians drink. Elsa, who has designs on being either a politician or an actress, I tell her they are much the same, shows us a video of some acting she has done in the local theatre just a few days previously with her school. The programme is pulled together with the guy here who is the main host of Te Vlen, the Albanian version of Who's got talent? Finally we leave at 9pm to go home and then Ann prepares our evening meal in our basic kitchen. Basic means we have two rings but only one works, there is no work top, just use the table! what is the problem?, no real utensils other than what we buy, and one saucepan and low electric power. Turn the kettle on and the lights dim! I am serious. But Ann is wonderful as ever and by 10.30pm we are sitting down to a lovely meal including yet another salad! End of another wonderful day.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Korca part 2

Sunday saw us go to the morning Youth Meeting with about 20 people. They led the whole time with worship and then two of them gave a short preach about prayer. I brought some application about praying and Edi wrapped the meeting up. He and Artina , Arta for short, have gathered a good group. They have 40 young people who want to come to the Youth Camp in July. Lunch with Edi and Arta and then back for the second meeting at 5pm. Most people here are self employed, there being no big companies to employ people other than the State for teachers, Police, hospital staff, civil servants etc. So they meet when people have finished work at 4pm. (Remember too that there is a mixture of Muslim, who have Friday as a day of rest if any, and Orthodox with Sunday off if any.) We had excellent worship with a number of Hillsong songs and others we know. Again I spoke about Joseph wearing his coat of many colours and that God has given us a coat to wear. Edi called for a response and we prayed for many. There were about 70 people in all. I find it moving when we are asked to pray for people who are sick where in the UK one would think to go to the doctor first. Then another time of worship after this as they feel God has so blessed them. Then back to Edi and Arta's to eat whilst all the while Edi is plying me with questions. Then a taxi back to the hotel as it was pouring with rain.
On Monday we went by furgon, minibus, to Pogradec an hour away. It is a town on the shores of Lake Ohrid, and near the Macedonian border. It is an old lake formed by the earth's crust moving and very deep with varieties of fish found no where else. A bit like Loch Ness without Nessie! We walked to the Nehemiah Centre a German evangelical centre used as a private school during the week and for youth events and conferences during weekends. Edi understood that we wanted to see the place but was unprepared for all the questions we asked. Do our team need to bring their own sheets, own towels, what food will be served, can we see the kitchens, what are the sleeping arrangements, and the toilets (they are Turkish!) and they double up as showers! so you can do both at the same time??! We saw the main meeting hall and checked on the availability of a drum kit, keyboard, mixing desk etc. Edi was stunned by all our questions! He clearly is not an administrator but thankfully Arta is. The place is well organised and really clean as you can imagine run by a German organisation. We look forward to our Youth Band being their in July and many lives being changed. The numbers wanting to come to the Camp, (they always use the term Camp rather than conference even though we are in permanent buildings) are increasing. Edi says he has 40 who want to come in addition to others from other churches in Albania, some of the guys he gathers in Ohrid, Macedonia and the youth from Kosova. The latter are in for a really long furgon journey. The direct route is through Macedonia but they have no passports being young and they are costly. However they can come straight into Albania on the Kosova/Albania border with their ID cards but it means a really long journey. It is at times like this when one appreciates the joys of having a UK/EU passport!
Then back to Korca grabbing a bite on the way of byrek, hot filo pastry filled with feta cheese. Ann had chips as she cannot eat bread, pastry, cakes or anything with flour! Then a meeting of workers at Edi and Arta's house at 6pm. They are called workers not leaders! I spoke to the group and and at Edi's request spoke to them about money! There's a surprise! I could have spoken all night, but we closed at 8pm. Then Arta cooked us a meal and we walked home through deserted dark streets! Everybody seems to be home with doors shut by 9pm and the streets become completely deserted. It is eerie! and street lighting is poor.
On Tuesday morning we went for a walk to look at some of the sites in Korca but they were shut! One was an art gallery in the former house of a painter of Albanian Impressionist Art, but it was closed for redecoration. So we had a coffee, them met with Edi to talk through the whole programme and arrangements for the Youth Camp. I think we did it to death but it was necessary. Edi wants Lee and Liam to speak at main sessions but also for Lee to speak to church leaders about Youth Work in a church setting. In the evening we had a meal out with Edi and Arta, partly to say thank you to them for inviting us, giving us so much time, and being so patient as we learn their culture and ways and as we teach them and give them ideas and bring Godly challenge. They are just such a brilliant couple who soak up all that we say. It is a joy to be with them and sad to leave them.
Wednesday we decided we must get a piece of paper from the Police for insurance purposes. So I went again with Edi to the Police. It was the same again with explanations all round at the entrance gate to the Police Station, but this time we got to speak to an Inspector who told us to come back in an hour and he would see what he could do. After walking away about 100 yards he calls Edi on his mobile and something could be done now. So back we go and eventually we see an man who types up my details with Edi 's help. What is my fathers name? my father is dead...Yes but what is his name? OK Frederick and so on until we get the printed signed letter. I have reported my belongings as lost. If I say they are stolen they must open a case and I must stay in Albania indefinitely at my cost until it is sorted. Not an option!
At last it is all sorted and then we pack our belongings and head for a furgon to Elbasan. Edi finds one and we get on board. We wait an hour and a quarter, as the driver tries to drum up other customers by touring the local streets in the minibus before we finally set off. Two and a half hours later we arrive in a really hot Elbasan! Korca is in the mountains so cooler by several degrees. But we are home and collapse on the bed, then make a drink and then go food shopping! Another chapter finished in our time here!
Ken and Ann

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Korca part 1

The reason you have heard nothing from us in the last few days is because we have been so busy. Last Friday we travelled to Korca by minibus about 2 and a half hours. It was marred by me having my shoulder bag stolen. Sadly this is a constant hazard in Albania. We were siting at the front of the minibus with my bag at my feet and 2 women behind me must have put their hand under the seat and took the bag which contained my camera and my ordinary glasses. I was wearing my sun glasses at the time and so at least I have them. I feel annoyed with myself for being so foolish when I know that travelling or even moving about here is a hazard with people pestering mainly children for money and pickpockets about the place. We physically stand out, not because we wish to but we do, me being taller than most and having a paler skin.
Anyway we met Edi and Artina who were delighted to see us. They took us straight to their youth meeting. They have an excellent rented building with space for young people to play table tennis as well as space for about 100 people. We spent a time in worship with these 20 or so young folks.
Saturday saw us travelling to Voskopoja, a village in the mountains which 300 years ago was the largest city in the Balkans with 35,000 people but now has just a handful. It is noted for a church with icon like paintings on the outside of the building as well as inside. The church was locked, and Edi fetched the priest to get the key. Then we had coffee at a hotel in the mountains. We were surrounded by stunning scenery. Mountains surround you wherever you go and the tops are still snow covered. Then we went to Arta's favourite restaurant beside a stream in the village of Boboshtica for a wonderful meal of roast lamb and offal with salad and chips.
Then to the Police Station in Korca to report my stolen bag. This is not as straight forward as you might think. There is hand shaking all round, this is at the gate to the Police Station, an explanation of what has happened to all and sundry, the Police Officers of various ranks and bystanders who are just curious. There is a lot of head shaking and talking and discussion and commiserations and more hand shaking but they are not willing to do anything but rather suggest that I report this to the Police in Elbasan where we came from. So reluctantly we call it a day.
There had been a family bereavement in the church so this meant Edi needed to go and see the family for an hour or two, then go later again that evening with Artina for a further 2 hours and then again the following day. Staying overnight with the family would not have been out of the question just to express support.
As we have not written for a while let me post this and write more later today about our time in Korca.
We are definitely in a different culture but the wonderful thing is God is everywhere!
Ken and Ann

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Alpha


Yesterday after 4 pm we went to a family home in a hamlet just outside Librazhd, where they were just starting an Alpha course Albanian style. By that they mean they do not call it a course, that would put people off, rather they say we are meeting to have coffee and talk about a topic then people are open to coming. The 2 leaders are Ilir, bottom left and Ladi, top right who lead several groups like this. The lady in the white headscarf Ruzhdie, aged 68, next to Ann was brought up Muslim. One time when she was in bed at night she was not able to move her arms at all, they were completely rigid. For the first time she prayed to Jesus to help her and immediately she was able to move her arms. She saw a beautiful face surrounded by light and a voice said I am Jesus follow me! So she has ever since. The lady sitting on the other side of Ann is Ruzhdie's daughter Mahie also a follower of Jesus and so is her son Sami who is bottom right in the photo. The young girls in the photo, Brisilda, Paola and Marcela have been invited to the Youth Camp in July that our Youth band are going to. Please pray that they want to go and that Jesus changes their lives.
After we went to Ilirs home, no apostrophes on this key board, where we met his wife Donika and family, and then ate a delicious meal with boiled potatoes for once. After the children were in bed we talked about many things including buildings and finances.
video
On Monday when we met with Ilir and Rudina they took us for coffee in a cafe 13 stories up that overlooks Elbasan. The video clip shows some of the mountains and hills overlooking the city and the number of apartments blocks, pallati, that have been built in recent years. Elbasan was built on the via Egnatia, the Roman road that led from Rome to Constantinople, now Istanbul. It has been and still is the main highway for traffic from Italy and Albania to Macedonia, northern Greece and Turkey. It follows the route of the Shkumbini river up into the mountains.

Today the weather has changed. Gone are the thunder clouds and it is blue sky and HOT. Local men still walk round with a thick shirt, pullover and a jacket on, where I am in my shirt sleeves.
Now off to the pazaar, get lunch, change money and then to a meeting to talk about the future of childrens work here. Another day here then off to Korca.
We will keep in touch
Ken and Ann

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Onto Librazhd




After work yesterday we had drinks out with Ilir and Rudina, pictured here, with their 3 daughters Sara, Eliada and Abigail. I had salep, a Turkish drink of a bulb of some sort that is crushed and mixed with hot milk. Nowadays people buy it in powder form just as we would make Horlicks. The cafe has a revolving coffee bar 13 storeys up so one has a wonderful view of the mountains that surround Elbasan. Whilst the girls were playing and dancing, we talked business. We spoke about their new church building and praying for money to come, building vision for it and many practical issues surrounding this. The we went for a giro, a walk round the town, along with half the population of Elbasan. This is an important part of the day and very sociable. People meet friends and talk, catch up on news, meet business acquaintances and arrange meetings, all done with much handshaking, kissing, and something new to me, a gentle pinching of children's cheeks, which conveys I love you!
This afternoon, we will travel half an hour to the neighbouring town of Librazhd where the leaders have said they would like to meet up with us. I guess it will be a getting to know you session with lots of questions and answers. We will stay in someones home overnight and then return by furgon, minibus tomorrow.
We will be in touch
Ken and Ann

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Over the mountains to Elbasan




Well here we are in Elbasan! Albania's 3rd largest city.
We had an excellent time in Tirana, meeting the leaders from the other churches, catching up on their news and praying with them. Ann was right, the downtown hotel was an experience with a Turkish toilet. When Albania became free and people got more money the first thing they did was to replace the Turkish toilet with a western one. Ann has given me permission to say that they are not her favourite experience but they do strengthen the leg muscles! I will say no more.
Another picture to convey that things are a bit different here is the photo taken on the way to the Internet cafe of Ann and the lady with the red wedding dress. There are lots and lots of wedding dress shops all in the same street and a huge variety of colours pink, purple, cream, etc all of course suit their dark hair and olive skin.
This morning we went to church here. There were loads of children. Many in the church are in their 30's and 40's so lots of their own children and they also run a Kids Club on Saturdays. It was good to be here again and meet many we know. Their church building is proceeding well. We have just given some money to it to enable them to install windows and doors etc. We prayed for our Youth band that comes out to Albania in July. In addition to the Albanians we are looking at them being joined by youth from Macedonia and Kosova.
We were at Arjan and Blerina's for a meal last night. Another wonderful meal with fresh fish, olive and orange salad and so on. Their children are learning English and already know how to ask for ice cream! The day is filled with bright sunshine getting hot midday say 25C then thunder clouds forming and down pours follow. From our apartment we can see snow still on the mountain tops about 6500-7000 ft.
Yesterday we went to the pazaar to buy our fruit and veg. Ann loves it. Lovely local cucumbers, lettuce and tomatoes, (already) and peppers, oranges etc. It is a great experience.
Finally for today, the top photo. It is so Albanian to see men sitting in the park playing chess, backgammon, cards, talking and drinking coffee all day whilst their womenfolk clean the house and prepare the meals. Each village and town has an area like this called seshi burra, a flat area of land, in a very hilly country, where the men meet and used to resolve differences by fighting. Just to keep you learning Albanian burra is men and gra is women. We are now off to buy a colander and a bottle of fresh pasteurised milk. Milk is either UHT or bought from a farmer you know and you boil it yourself. We have found a shop that sells pasteurised fresh milk! Wow!
We will be in touch.
Ken and Ann