Monday, 15 November 2010

Skopje and 490 Christian Centre

On Friday evening the 490 Christian centre runs a bible training school that Marija teaches at. Here is Marija with a couple of the students Trieche and Oliver.

Saturday morning saw me on a walking tour of Skopje with Aleksander. First to the main Orthodox church and then onto the old fortress walls called Kale, with the river Varder in front of it.

We walked through the old part of the town that was built in the Ottoman period and now is the home to the small stalls and markets like any souk or bazaar and sells amongst many things unusually for nowadays real fur coats and jackets. Then having toured the castle walls we walked through the town centre in warm autumn sunshine to the old railway Station where the clock stopped at 5.17 pm on 26th July 1963 when a major earthquake shook Skopje. Over 1,000 people died and over 200,000 were made homeless. The Railway building was never repaired and stands now as a museum.

We stopped for a much needed coffee along the way as many others were doing too.

Where we were was right next to the Mother Teresa monument house. She was born here in Skopje. The architecture of the house is strange to say the least and has been built it seems to me like a almost a idol to her.

Then onto a wonderful meal at Aleksander and Elena's home, where we caught up on the news of each other. This is when I really wished that Ann was with me as Elena really enjoys Ann's company.

Sunday morning saw us getting a taxi to the 490 Christian Centre church who hold their meetings in a rented hall with theatre style seating. The preacher was a visiting Kosovo Albanian from Gjakove! (the 490 comes from How many times must I forgive my brother? 70x70). Then for a fish a chip lunch Macedonian style. A wonderful big salad followed by chunky chips, not french fries, which is what you find nearly everywhere here, followed by the fresh fish excellently cooked.

After a brief respite it was off again to Naomi's, the 4 yr old daughter, birthday party in a nearby hall. It was all kitted out as these places are with the music and games and food to suit the children whilst the parents sat in a side room in quieter surroundings and fed good Macedonian fare. There I had chance to talk to Zoran, one of the church leaders, and hear about the history and leadership structure of the church.

Time to move on this time to "Glasnost", their youth church; but not really youth rather 18-28's. What started as a youth church has of course grown older! This operates quite separately it seems from the main church and is planting churches in other parts of Macedonia. An interesting chat with one of the leaders Alpin, afterwards over kebabs was called for until late. Then home and to bed.

Now time on Monday morning to write up this blog, post some cards to my family, pack my case and in a few minutes they will come to take me away! To the Aleksander the Great Airport and home via Budapest. So interesting to see how God is yet again at work in a very different culture from home. Lets see what doors God will open from these last two and a half weeks in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.


Friday, 12 November 2010

Добредојдовте во Скопје

Yes it's confusing isn't it? It actually says "Welcome to Skopje" in Macedonian. I could also have entitled this page as How time flies! Wednesday morning saw Lee and Tom up in good time for Shpendi to take them down town to the local bus station to get the bus to Pristina, the capital. Then a taxi ride would take them to the airport for the British Airways flight home. I know they got there alright as Lee sent me a text to that effect. And now they will have had a couple of nights in their own beds. Always a wonderful feeling!

I spent a time out day walking round Skopje looking at the sites as described in the Bradt guide, the only guide I know that has a book wholly devoted to Kosovo. I like to do this as it feeds me history, what has changed, how people dress, what they eat and a clue as to what goes on in their culture.

In the evening Liridoni, Shpendi's brother had his future mother in law call round with his fiancee Fitore and her sister. Below is a photo of Fitore, Shpendi, his wife Linda and Shpendi's sister Liradona.

It was so interesting to see what happened. It was just like home! Shpendi's wife Linda and his sister Liradona set too and cleaned the place from top to toe, the floor, the kitchen, we were moved off the settee so it could be straightened etc. This was obviously an important occasion. I later learned they had also come to see me, the Englishman. They told me that only ten years ago just before the Kosovo war, the men and women would have sat in separate rooms Turkish and Muslim style but the war changed all that.

Now it was my turn on Thursday to pack my case, say my farewells and go to the bus station after a very worthwhile time with Shpeni and Linda. At the bus station there is minimal information available to the traveller so it is important to keep ones wits about you. Bus stop 6, my bus stop, would either take me east 3.5 hours to Skopje, Macedonia or west 3.5 hours to Ulcinj in Montenegro. Lesson....get on the right bus!

We left on time in a comfortable modern bus, soon climbing into the mountains. Vines and orange orchards were quickly replaced with roadside stalls piled high with leeks and winter cabbages. Snow had already settled on the mountain tops. One brief "comfort break" and then onto the Macedonian border. I won't describe or show you a photo of the "comfort break". It could put you off international travel for life. Lets just say Ann would not have enjoyed it.

And then over the border having had my passport duly stamped and the bus searched by customs. Over the border into a totally different alphabet and language, which I cannot read apart from a few words, and into Slav culture which is very different from Albanian culture. Importantly Marija was there to great me at the bus station and then taxi to their home. Marija came to our Ladies REAL Conference.

Sasha and Marija have three children. Their youngest daughter Naomi aged 4, wanted to know if Uncle Ken had got his pyjamas with him. If I had then obviously I am staying the night. They were so excited to see me. They reminded me of my own grandchildren. Luka aged 4 wanted me to play football in the house with him, a soft ball of course and look at his model cars. It was great. After something to eat, and in Slav culture that means soup to start, I was then put on a bus, told how the ticket system works and packed off to the other side of the city where I was assured I would be met at the final bus stop to go to a Lifegroup meeting. And true enough there was Aleskander, the first Macedonian I had met some 3 years ago in Struga, now waiting for me. Aleksander and his wife Elena have kept in contact with Ann and me since then.

Life group was excellent. They like us went through the previous weeks sermon, theirs had been part of a series on the grace of God, and the leader Nikola wanted us to tell examples of God's grace in our lives and to give actual examples where we had known God humbling us as we had learnt humility from Christ. Here is Nikola and Maya who led the group.

And three of the guys and the wonderful pear soft drink Gasosa I have had.

The biscuits, crisps, fruit, drinks could have been served at any one of our groups. Fortunately there was a taxi driver in the Lifegroup and he took me home. Finding the way home from the bus stop in the dark would have been fun!

A nights rest and then this morning we travelled across town to see the work the church does amongst Roma children. Skopje has the largest Roma community on the world 50-70,000. Having heard and read about it I was nothing like as daunting as I thought it might be and doesn't compare size wise with say Garbage City in Cairo.

I was impressed with the facility the church has here standing on land bought for them by an American Assemblies of God church. They run a preschool and a soup kitchen. The preschool is bright, colourful with clearly dedicated staff and all the equipment one would want. All they get taught alphabet, counting, numbers etc is linked in one way or another to the Bible. Because they teach values like kindness, patience, helping each other, orderliness, in addition to helping clothe and feed them the local schools snap up these children when it is time for them to move on to infant school.

Other children who are in need of food are feed Monday to Friday at their soup kitchen that is in the same large building. This is run by Tom the pastor of the church here with volunteer help including a young woman from Virginia, USA. They are given a huge chunk of bread and a bowl of soup and a coke like drink. They sing a worship song, shout it would be a better description, but brilliant to hear, have a brief prayer then tuck in. Tom is clearly the man for the job and has everyones respect. Children who need food for the weekend are given some after the Friday session.

Photos of the childrens work were taken by one of the church members rather than me and will be sent me later. Now tomorrow, Saturday I get a personal guided tour of Skopje with Aleksander and then a meal cooked for me us by Elena. I look forward to it!


Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Well here is Lee and Tom in the centre of Prizren this morning, Tuesday.

Historically there were many trades carried on in Prizren and some of them like this one, a metal worker, still continue.

There are 3 languages in use in Prizren, Albanian, Serbian and Turkish.

This is what we had for breakfast.

Lee and Tom with Shpendi outside the family home.

We had coffee out first thing this morning Tuesday, then returned home to a breakfast cooked by Shpendi's mother. It was a pancake mixture dropped into hot fat, cooked and then folded in half and eaten with jam or honey. It was like a light fluffy pancake. We had several of these!! We talked all last evening and over coffee this morning about the Youth Camp and how church life is for them in this city that has a very strong Turkish influence. This is seen not only in the number of mosques, over 25 in Prizren, but also in the amount of rebuilding that is Turkish financed and the amount of Turkish spoken on the street. Already I feel that we have achieved a great deal and that our friendship is growing. I won't give the details here but our journey with all the problems at the border has proved worthwhile. It is just so good to travel with Lee and Tom, and to have their contributions. It has proved completely appropriate and worthwhile to have Lee as Youth Pastor travel with me. He naturally develops his own relationships with people and is a key person when so many of the churches we meet have a high percentage of youth.
Please keep praying for Lee and Tom as their time here draws to a close and they travel home tomorrow. I am here another day and then travel onto Skopje by bus to see Aleksander and Elena and Marija and their church. The church here needs your prayer too as yet again I hear the calls of the muezzins from the mosques. All our love,

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Sunday in Elbasan and onto Prizren, Kosovo

On Sunday morning most of the church from Librazhd travelled the 25 minutes to Elbasan to join us there. I brought a message to the people and then spoke to the leaders of the Librazhd church and their people about being part of Newfrontiers. Here is a photo of Ladi and Ornela, Ilir and Donika and Samuel, the leaders in Librazhd. Some of you will remember that Ornela and Donika came to the Ladies Real conference and that Ilir and Donika came to the Willow Creek DVD Conference. Below the photo shows some of the Librazhd folks in the Elbasan building whose ground floor meeting hall is nearing completion.

Monday morning early saw us catching a furgon from Elbasan to travel over the mountains to Tirane, the capital of Albania. So it is goodbye to Elbasan from us until next Spring. In Tirane we were met by Shaban at the furgon "terminal". Actually they just drop you off in the street near a building called the Pyramid because of its shape. Then all aboard Shaban's car heading for Prizren in Kosovo. This entails driving along a wonderful new piece of road from Milot, a few miles from Tirane, past Kukes to the Albania/Kosovo border, and thereby making the journey much shorter. The journey to Kosovo was usually by an overnight bus leaving at 10pm and arriving in Prizren at 4am. It never appealed to me! One Albanian church leader who did the journey was picked up in Prizren by the Kosovon Police wanting to know why he was roaming the streets at 4am. You can imagine Ann liking that can't you?

All went well until we reached to Kosovo entry border, when the Police would not let Shaban enter Kosovo. Albanians have an Identity Card and they travel across borders with that but they were clearly unhappy with Shabans and I don't know why. In the end we had to say cheerio to Shaban at the border and walk through the crossing to a nearby taxi. We called Shpendi our friend in Prizren, and took the taxi to the bus station in Prizren, where Shpendi and his wife Linda met us. They have brought us to the family home, a four storey house on the outskirts of Prizren. Now that means mum and dad, his brother and his brothers wife, they and their 2 children and sister live altogether under one roof.

We have been introduced to all the family, photos to follow, and had our lunch of local sausage, chips and salad. Now we are swapping stories and getting ready to eat again. Here is just a bit of background that will interest some of you.

The history of Kosovo needs a book in itself. Let's just say that Prizren pretty well escaped damage in the 1989-1999 war, but when the Albanians returned in 1999 a considerable number of Serbian homes were looted and burnt. Prizren suffered the most material damage in the riots of March 2004 with 55 houses and and 8 Orthodox sites damaged. Many of the these houses remain burnt out shells. Kosovo declared Independence from Serbia on 17th February 2008. To help maintain security and order there are KFOR soldiers (Kosovon Forces) , mainly American, British, German round Prizren, Italian and French troops who patrol, though this is low key.

However, many would say that Prizren is the jewel in the crown of Kosovo from an architectural point of view. It has the highest number of preserved Ottoman buildings with their upper storeys jutting out into the narrow cobbled streets. Prizren is the only municipality in Europe outside of Turkey where Turkish is an official language, a hangover from the Ottoman Empire. So many road signs are in 3 languages, Albanian, Serbian and Turkish. The town has 200,000 people and has a high youth population. Schools operate 3 shifts a day with up to 50 in a class.

Tomorrow we will talk more with Shpendi and Linda and go into Prizren and see some of the sites. Love from Lee and Tom and me.

Friday, 5 November 2010

onto Pogradec and the 2011 Youth Camp

After Wednesday and Thursday afternoons in Librazhd with their youth, today it was all aboard a furgon, minibus, for a 90 minute ride to Pogradec by Lake Ohrid. This is the city where we hold the Youth Camp. And what more could you ask for? Here it is the first week of November and the temperature is 21-22C and dead calm. The mountains of Macedonia are in the background.

You can see Lee is in his short sleeve T shirt!

I nearly always take time to speak to young people like these teenagers we met by the lakeside. It improves my Albanian and you never know what friends you will make or how God will use the conversation.

Autumn is coming though and this tree was a magnificent sight against the cloudless blue sky. God is a wonderful creator. Lili the administrator greeted us at the Nehemiah Centre and showed us the new building they have finished that we will be able to use next year. It will provide bedroom space, showers, break out rooms and has a wonderfully equipped kitchen and dining room that comfortably seats over 100. Here are just a handful of the 300 children and teenagers they teach at the school, having their lunch.

And the photo below shows part of the new kitchens. The Centre is German owned and all the doors, windows down to the kitchen equipment, crockery, cutlery etc come by truck from Germany. The kitchen staff had a German lady train them for 2 weeks on how to use the new equipment!!

Now here is a photo Ann, who is at home in Bracknell, is waiting to see. Edi and Artina (Arta) with their first baby, Michael who was born in September. Edi and Arta lead a church in Korca. They had travelled from Korca to meet us and see the new facilities at the Nehemiah Centre and talk through some of the plans for next years Youth Camp.

And here is Lili, the administrator, admiring Michael as any mum would.

After our time at the Centre, I returned to Elbasan by furgon and Edi and Arta took Lee and Tom to their home in Korca. So tonight, Friday, Lee will be meeting their young people and again tomorrow and speaking at their church on Sunday morning. I am meeting some of the church people in Elbasan tomorrow and then speaking at the Elbasan church on Sunday when we will be joined by the church from Librazhd and I will bring them into Newfrontiers.

What a privilege to be here and to be able to share this with you!


Thursday, 4 November 2010

Youth in Librazhd

When Ilir and Donika were with us for the Willow Creek DVD Conference they said they wanted Lee to come to Librazhd and encourage them in their Youth work. So after lunch yesterday we went to Librazhd where many of their young people were gathered in a cafe, including several teenagers we had not met before. Here are Armo, Irina and Yetmiri above and Arselda and Denisa below.

After the inevitable coffee or drinks, Tom introduced them to some icebreaker games! They definitely broke any ice there was. It was a good cultural experience for Tom, who thought they would know the games he knows! They now know about Zip, Zap, Bong in Librazhd!

You may know that we took out some guitars to Librazhd when we came to the Youth Camp in July. Well they have made a start and so we were treated to a playing from from Paola. We are back in Librazhd this afternoon, Thursday, when Lee will speak about Youth work and I am sure we will have some more icebreakers.

The young people here have just started (two weeks ago) a childrens work after the Sunday meeting mainly for children who do not come to their church. Last week they had 17 children. Wow!

And finally, this is what we had for breakfast this morning, an Elbasan speciality that is only made here in Elbasan. Simite me bugace! A round bread bun, filled with thin pancakes with melted butter poured over it and then sprinkled with salt. Healthy eh! But I didn't feel hungry after it.

Please keep us in mind and pray as we are with the youngsters in Librazhd this afternoon and then travel on to Korca tomorrow and over the weekend when Lee and Tom will again speak to the young people Edi and Artina have gathered in Korca.

All our love, Ken and Lee and Tom

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Elbasan at last...and Alpha

Here are 4 of the girls on the Alpha course, mentioned below, Alketa, Dorina, Florinda and Sejada.

Lee spoke to about 50 youth at Bethel Church, Tirana on Saturday night. Sunday morning Shaban and Tani took Lee and Tom to Kruje, the most touristy place in Albania, the only place really where you can buy souvenirs. Then after lunch they spoke at a Sunday meeting in the afternoon at Shaban's church. I spoke at Rob and Mira's church on Sunday morning and then prayed over everyone present.

I spent part of the afternoon being educated in billiards Albania style! The balls are numbered 1 to 15 and the winner is the first to score 61. You hit the balls hard as you can and there are no penalties!! No points deducted or given to your opponent if the ball goes off the table or you hit the wrong ball first! It is just brute force!

We have a young lady in our church in Bracknell from Albania called Ida. Ida had asked me to see her sister and parents as she has not seen them face to face for 6 years. So on Monday morning I went to see them in Tirana with Rob who acted as translator. As you might imagine it was an emotional occasion. So for an hour or more I was privileged to be the human link to their much loved daughter. We all shed more than a few tears. Love and greetings were exchanged. I wont show you any photos here. I think it is right for Ida to see them first when I get home. Needless to say I was privileged to receive lavish Albanian hospitality including lovely fresh fruit and a glass or was it two?, of raki.

Then onto a centre on the coast near Durres that might possibly be a place for next years Youth Camp. Now we had said farewell to Rob and Shaban and were travelling with Edi who had come from Korca. We looked round the centre and talked this through, the pros and cons. Time again to move on so farewell to Edi until we will see him on Friday, and for us to clamber aboard the first minibus, furgon, we could catch by the roadside going to Elbasan. We arrived in Elbasan almost as the sun was setting at 5 pm. Straight to the apartment where the guys stayed last August to drop off our luggage, and from that to a Youth Alpha planning meeting with the team from the church in Elbasan led by Ilir. Tom and I left Lee talking to the team planning this, and we headed off to buy our food and water for breakfast and the days we are here. An evening meal and then we all dropped into our beds at 8pm completely tired out. I couldn't tell you the last time I went to bed at 8pm. But it had been one of the most tiring, perhaps emotionally draining days I have had in a long while. A 6 am start, 6 hours of travelling on poor roads, and 4 meetings with nothing to eat until we stopped in the evening. No wonder we were tired.

But it is amazing what a good nights rest can do! We were new men yesterday morning! We had a planning time and prayed and then headed off to the pazaar to buy fresh new seasons mandarins and white grapes. And then lunch. Qofte, Greek salad and chips. Then to catch up on e-mails in the Internet cafe before going off to the first evening of the Youth Alpha that started last night. A number of students from the University turned up and Lee led the session. Questions flowed at the end and it had definitely been a worthwhile evening. This is the first time they have run a Alpha course here in Elbasan and is a direct follow on from the Youth Camp.

Here is Ilir, on the right who leads the church in Elbasan, with a couple of guys on the Alpha course. The guy on the left is Mundi who came off the street to hear Ethos play in the Skampa Theatre last July. As a result he came to the Youth Camp, got born again and is coming regularly to the church in Elbasan. That is brilliant isn't it?

I have included this photo of Tom just to show he is thriving here!

Finally for now, do you remember the incident of Andy Jackson and choosing the wrong door back in May? As a result they kindly painted a warning on the door "Danger Dog", in Albanian of course. Would have Andy known the difference?

Love to you all from Lee, Tom and me