Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Postscript to the Youth Camp

Vera and Mira, Ida's mother and sister.
Now back home I thought just to round it off I would add a postscript. The team all got home safely and some shared on the Sunday. I believe there will be a brief article about the Youth Camp in our next Link magazine.
On the Sunday I spoke at the Elbasan church who with our help have installed a good screen for worships songs, and we also left with them a computer with song software on as well as the usual programmes. All this adds quality to what they are able to produce and reflects well on them as a local church and on God's Kingdom.
Monday we had coffee with Ilir and Aryana in Elbasan, then followed by lunch with Ilir and Rudina the church leaders, followed by another coffee with Ilir and Donika the leaders from Librazhd followed in the evening with crepes and coffee with Blerim and Rudina whose apartment we rented for the team. You can see Albania is a coffee culture!!
On Tuesday morning we had a call from Besnik (who comes to our church) and Valentina, and whose wedding we attended, saying could they have coffee with us? So at 9 in the morning we were sitting outside the Skampa Theatre talking about their wedding. We mentioned that we were then on our way to Tirana by minibus. A few minutes later Besnik had arranged for a friend Alex, who we met at the wedding and who has been to the Kerith Centre once, to give us a lift to the capital. Alex was driving back to the UK. Alex took us to our hotel in Tirana. We were met there by Berti who took us to his home in Kruje to meet his wife Ema and their 2 children and have lunch together. Berti used to run a small church in Kruje and I wanted to catch up with him. Then back to Tirana by local minibus and on to meet Shaban and Elvira who lead a church in Tirana. After a while with them we went see Xhelal and Vera, the parents of Ida, the Albanian young woman in our church, and her sister Mira. (See photo above) As you may imagine there were hugs all round, and we were treated to Albanian hospitality in the house followed by being taken to a fish restaurant for a wonderful meal.
On Wednesday we met with Peter, a Dutchman, who is working at getting the Freedom in Christ course translated into Albanian. In the evening we met with Ladi and Ornela, Ornela came to the REAL conference last year. They took us out for yet another meal whilst we talked about their gathering of young people from Librazhd who have come to Tirana to the University.
In virtually every conversation we were hearing good feedback about the lives of young people changed at the Youth Camp, and of how we will need 2 Camps next year and ideas as to how this might happen. All very exciting and very challenging as we look forward to next year!
Ken and Ann

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Youth Camp, Pogradec

Our Youth Camp began on Tuesday at lunchtime as the young people arrived from 6 churches in Albania. From Burrel, Lezhe, Tirana, Elbasan, Librazhd and Korca. Our team left Elbasan in good time on Tuesday morning with Ann to be able to greet all those coming. Meanwhile I travelled with Ilir Qelemeni from Librazhd to Rinas Airport to meet Helen Cottee. When we arrived the flight was posted as being 30 minutes late, so we went for lunch . On return it was posted as being 2 hours late. Uhm! Then I had a call from Helen to say she was back at Gatwick! The plane had developed a crack in the windscreen and had turned back to the UK. They were all offloaded, given a meal voucher, had something to eat and then loaded onto a different plane that planned to arrive at 7pm! Life doesn't always go to plan does it? What to do? Ilir and I thought the best thing to do was to go to the beach! Not a bad idea! So off we went and whiled away our time on the sun loungers. They also have like four poster beds on the beach you can hire! An interesting idea! I won't show you the photos. Time soon went and we headed back to the airport to greet a somewhat tired but joyful Helen.

Then on our way, a 4 hour journey, that sadly for Helen was in the dark, so she was unable to see the wonderful mountainous countryside we passed through. At midnight we arrived at the Camp and Helen was united with the girls from our team.

This years Camp was more full on than those previously. Not only were there drama, and leadership sessions in the morning but those really interested could enjoy a further deeper session in the afternoon from our team. This meant their own afternoon free time was much reduced and seldom was the whole team freed up together. Here is a photo from a fun game session led by Tom that all the young people really enjoyed. A quick way to break down any barriers and shyness and get people going!

Robert Cook from Lezhe led the first teaching session and then it was lunch. This has been our biggest Camp to date. 80 the first year, 120 last year and 160 this year. This definitely was pushing the Camp site facilities provided by the Nehemiah Centre to the limits. Lili the administrator tells me how she lies awake at night thinking how she is going to cope with us all! Camps for them are usually for 60 people and again normally for children not teenagers and students. Here are our guys tucking in...

and Amy and Stuart.

Here are some of the youngsters from Korca. You will not be surprised to know that young men can get through quite a lot of food!

Just one of many shots I could give you of the main sessions

We had several drama slots in the sessions. here is one performed by the young people from Tirana where they draw the head, hands and feet of Christ. At the back are a couple of guys who attend a Music Academy in Tirana who sang with voices as you would in opera. They were just amazing to hear, stunning in fact. That coupled with what was drawn had huge impact and was loudly applauded.

Liam led a couple of excellent sessions on the Holy Spirit and on Relationships. Both occasions led to people being prayed for. I know several have become Christians and others have definitely had their lives changed.

Amy praying with some of the girls

Here is a shot of Helen and Matt in a worship session with our band.

There were break sessions when many played volleyball, which is the most popular sport in Albania.

One of the great things about the Camp is hearing peoples stories. This is Elona from Lezhe in the north of Albania. When she told me her story my heart went out to her. Having finished her exams she wanted to study course 174, Law in Tirana, not far from here home. Her teacher by mistake wrote 147! She is now in Gjirokaster, in the south of Albania studying Information Technology! At times like this it is helpful to believe in the sovereignty of God.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday flew by! Helen felt she had been there ages though it had only been days. Sadly all too soon we had to say some farewells after the last session on Friday night.

Group photos a plenty were taken, e-mail addresses and facebook contacts made. And Saturday morning saw our guys with bags packed in good time ready for their minibus to arrive and take them back to the airport.

But leaving after such a brilliant time is never a short business, certainly not in Albania, so there were hugs all round again before the team were on their way.

No sooner had our team left than Tamara's parents from Skopje, Macedonia arrived to take her home. Some of you will know Marija and Tamara who came to the Ladies REAL Conference. They, and Tamara, were delighted that Tamara was able to be with us and knowing Tamara she talked about the Camp the whole way home!!

By the time you read this the team will be back in Bracknell, recovering from a wonderfully effective week serving the purposes of God.

Ann and I stay on another 6 days, speaking at church in Elbasan this morning and then seeing leaders from 4 churches and some new people we haven't met before in Tirana. Next year there will definitely have to be 2 Camps as the Nehemiah site, and it is the biggest Camp in Albania, is not big enough to hold anymore. Exciting! Lots of love...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

e papershkrueshme...

I thought it was time for another Albanian lesson! This means "indescribable" in a good way! Yesterday after a chill out session at the local swimming pool, we all travelled 30 minutes to the town of Librazhd to hold a Concert in their Culture Centre. Here are some of the guys in front of the poster advertising the concert in Elbasan.

Here are Becca, Natalie and Amy. If you wonder how we do all our travelling then it is this minibus with Elmaz our driver. He collected us from the airport and takes us where ever we need to go.

Flori was with us for the Librazhd Concert in fact he starts us off. He sings "seranade Korcare", Korca (the city he comes from) love songs. these are known through Albania and everyone joins in so you are guaranteed audience participation from the start. Then he goes on to sing Christian songs in his style which always is greeted with huge appreciation. He raises the atmosphere right from the off! Then Matt and the band step on stage and take it from there.

Here are Matt and the guys. The audience in Librazhd just like last year is different from Elbasan. It is is virtually totally young people 13-22 say and all engaged with what is going on. The noise of the response from clapping, cheering is very loud!

Again this was followed by Liam who last night had at least 20 people respond to what he said. Liam said he felt totally in his element with such a crowd and it showed.

Here is Donika talking to a couple of the girls afterwards. Donika and Ilir lead the church here.

Liam was amazed to see so many people out on the street in the evening and for a a guy who likes to reach people this was a wonderful sight.

There were so many young people at the Concert one cannot help but think nearly all the youth of Librazhd will hear ab out this if they don't already know. Several of them said they would like to come to Camp with us, but it is not possible. I got a call during the Concert to say the Camp is full, full, full! We really cannot take any more , we have no where to sleep them!!

Now this morning after breakfast it was time to move on again, now to the Camp in Pogradec several hundred feet higher up, so cooler and next to Lake Ohrid.

Here we are loading up and time for a few last photos before the journey

and I travel back to the airport to meet Helen Cottee. Lots of love from us all and thank you for your prayers! Next blog will be from the Camp..


Monday, 25 July 2011

Back in Albania...

After a good journey to Gatwick last Friday morning, kindly taken there by Karen Mehta, we checked in our not inconsiderable luggage including 4 guitars, a keyboard and two pedal boards, just had time to have some breakfast before getting on board our BA flight to Tirana.

On arrival we were met by Elmaz who met us last year and he brought us straight to Elbasan in his minibus. Robert Cook was also there and the mixing desk from his church was also loaded on board. This time we were travelling in daylight, so much better, as BA have changed their flight times. Over the mountains then to Elbasan, to the same apartment we had last year for our guys and then our girls and Ann and me were taken to our hotel. By now it was early evening and everyone was really hungry so off to the Real Skampis where we had our first meal. This restaurant is inside the walls of an old Turkish fort.

As a free starter we were given the Albanian version of spinach pie, cream cheese and spinach in layers of filo pastry. This is when we begin to learn from the team who doesn't like cheese, and then who doesn't like tomato and so on. The meal ended with plates of watermelon, melon and grapes. Very refreshing in the heat.

However the menu is extensive enough with pasta, pizza, risotto, salads, chips and meat for everyone to eat their fill.

This shows part of the walls of the fort and gives an idea of the setting. Some of the team of course eat anything that is going, and Sam is one of them! Sam will not go hungry! It takes really energy to play drums you know!

Saturday morning gave time for us to sort our selves and then prepare for the Concert in the Skampa Theatre. We met with Elsa again who took Matt, Stuart, Anna and Dave to the local radio station Radio Kleo, to do a live broadcast. Flori from Korca arrived in the afternoon. You may recall that Flori came second in the Albania has got talent TV show here. So it makes him pretty famous in Albania. Some people recognize him in the street! Elsa gave the introductions then Flori started the Concert and this was followed by our band. Here is Matt and the guys doing their stuff!

They were followed by Liam who had arrived only an hour or so beforehand coming straight from the airport. He gave a powerful talk involving the whole audience, and 2 guys in particular. He asked then "Had they ever lied?" and then What does this make them feel? and Do they like this? This led to God's plan to deal with this. Liam was very clear, good with the people and challenging all at the same time.

This photo shows you that watermelons are in! By the truck load.

Then on Sunday the team went to the Elbasan church where Liam spoke and the band played. Ann and I went to the nearby village of Hotolisht to attend the wedding of Valentina to Besnik. Besnik comes regularly to our church and Valentina was at our Ladies REAL conference in July. This is Besnik and Valentina with Ann and myself. There were something like 350 guests to this second day of the wedding. Yesterday was the Bride's day now it was the turn of all of Besnik's family and friends and people from the village to celebrate. There was music and dancing from 12 noon until about 5.30, 2 tables at a time taking it in turn to lead the dancing. Yes I had to get on my feet and join in! It is like Greek dancing all linking hands and going round in a circle. Besnik and Valentina have to stand most of the time and eat very little as they are standing to honour all those who have come. During the dancing people are giving and throwing money, paper money, at the lead dancer! This is collected off the floor by young boys who give the money to the band. As it is a village we were told that the music and dancing was very traditional. It certainly was very noisy and everyone was involved. I can see how just like Biblical times one could run out of food and wine!

Towards the end then Besnik and Valentina are hoisted on friends shoulders and dance round in a circle. Finally, finally the couple leave but not to go on honeymoon! I think Besnik and Valentina will be at the Concert we are giving in Librazhd tonight, Monday!

I leave you with a picture of us at the wedding!

Lunch now and then get ready for us all to go to Librazhd for this evening! And tomorrow the guys all go off to Pogradec to the Youth Camp and I will go and meet Helen Cottee at the airport. Hope you like the heat Helen!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Shoffing, shopping and farewells...

As Monday would be Lydia's last full day in Elbasan and Albania Lydia had a look at some of the sights of Elbasan. We went to the Ethnographic Museum, which sounds a bit dry, but is in fact a wonderful old Ottoman house that would have been lived in by a wealthy family. The ground floor was used for making crafts such as weaving carpets or clothes as on this loom.

The house has several large rooms on the first floor, a mans room, the womens room, the main bedroom and also this large airy balcony where the family would sit out during the summer heat.

This beautiful silk blouse with silver thread patterns is one of the many items on display. It is every bit as beautiful as it looks and is very fine to feel.

This baby's cradle indicates you are in the womens room with low seating all round the room as you can see behind the cradle.

Here are Lydia and Ann looking out from the balcony. They both thought they could happily own a house like this as a summer residence!

I should have reaslised from the outset that with 2 women there would bound to be some (a lot)of shoffing and shopping! Shoffing is the Albanian word for window shopping.

Lydia and Ann would disappear only to be found in yet another bag/shoe/jewellery/clothes shop. Here we are in a coffee shop, selling ground coffee, that only opened that morning! We were offered a cup of Turkish coffee each, to taste the coffee, before we duly bought some at a fraction of the cost in the UK. The young woman serving us had just returned from 4 years in Campden, London.

The evening was spent having a wonderful meal at the home of Ilir and Rudina and their 3 daughters. We talked and talked as Rudina and Ilir prepared the meal.

Sadly time comes for farewells, and after the meal Lydia said her goodbyes and away we returned to our apartment. A sound nights sleep, if one is not woken by the call to prayer at 5.20 am from the mosque next to the apartment, and then time for Lydia to pack her bags and us get the furgon for Tirana. Shaban, ever graciously, met us in Tirana and took us to the airport. Here we meet with Robert Cook from Lezhe also returning to the UK to see his parents over Easter. We all had lunch together and caught up on news and then it was time for us to say goodbye to Lydia and express our real heartfelt thanks for her coming to Albania. I know Lydia has made many friends here already even in so short a time.

For us, then back the way we came over the mountains to Elbasan with another exciting week ahead of us.

Love to you all,

Ken and Ann

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Another full day

Sunday morning saw us at the church we go to in Elbasan. Lydia spent time with the children whilst I spoke with the rest of the church. Here are Ann, Lydia, Keta and Rudina. Rudina with her husband Ilir lead the church. We have invited Rudina to the Ladies REAL conference at Bracknell in July. Keta is studying at university in Elbasan and came to the first Alpha course the church ran that started last November. Keta and 3 of her friends became followers of Jesus through the course and are now involved in the life of the church. You have seen the room they use at present in yesterday's blog when Robert was speaking. Their building is a work in progress! Here is what will become the main hall. All four walls are up and the roof on! The rest will come. The church building in Elbasan is already something of a centre that other churches gather to because of the city's strategic position and the quality of the building they have. We are helping to equip their kitchens. After the meeting we headed here for coffee. This is known as Skampini which is a restaurant and coffee bar and hotel inside the old walls of the original Turkish fort built on this site. It is stunningly attractive especially when all the flowers are in full colour and it is decked out for a wedding! This afternoon Lydia and Ann met for 2 hours with six ladies from the church who are involved in the Children's ministry. Lydia has the photos of them all together. From what I hear it was a very worthwhile and enjoyable time that left Lydia excited at the prospect of all that could happen. Then a walk through town to the home of Beni and Bardha who now have 2 children, Joel and Jeremiah who was born on 30th December last year. Some of you may remember Bardha who came last year to the REAL conference. Another wonderful Albanian meal and now to the Internet Cafe to write this up and bring another busy day to an end at now 10.25

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Back in Albania

Lydia Harris Lane who heads the 0-5's in our church, Ann and I flew into Albania last Wednesday afternoon. We were met by Shaban Hoxha who leads a church in Tirane the capital. He took us to our hotel. Some of you will know we have some Albanians in our church including Ida. The very first thing we then wanted to do was to see Ida's parents, Ida's mum is above, and give our greetings to them from Ida. Ida has not seen her parents in the flesh for 7 years. So giving our greetings and talking with them and telling them about their precious daughter is an emotional and wonderful time. After talking a while they invited us out to a meal with Ida's sister Mira. Here is Ann and Mira, below. The restaurant was like a very large English pub that served a huge arrange of different meats. We had a wonderful meal and time together. Lydia had a brilliant introduction to Albania! After breakfast on Thursday we then went to see the work that Shaban and his wife Elvira have with Roma children. It is a simple school where local children are taught to read and write and play together all preparing them for State school. Whilst they should all go to State school most schools shun them, indeed refuse to have them and so they are marginalised from the outset. Teaching them the basics means they will be accepted at school and into the larger society. Here is a lad playing a recorder. Many Roma are musical. The music scale he uses is completely different from ours though. As soon as he plays the kids want to dance! Some of the class. Ann with the Roma lady who leads the class... and Lydia with a number of the children. The girl who Lydia has her arm round came to our Youth Camp last year. This was an enormous thing for this girl. To go to a normal young peoples event outside of her home town was just unbelievable for her! Our visit to these Roma children was a very moving time. Lydia is well used to seeing the poverty and very basic conditions found in her home country of South Africa, but this is Europe and it came as a bit of a surprise. Thursday afternoon saw us catch the furgon (minibus) for the 90 minute ride over the mountains to Elbasan. You can see the snow still on the surrounding mountain tops. Beautiful. And the main street of Elbasan, Boulevard Qemel Stafa. No sooner had we unpacked in our apartment we set off to see the people at the second Alpha course that the church we go to in Elbasan is running. Over 30 people were there. Some were from the church and attending the course others were completely new friends who had come along. There was a very good atmosphere and excellent for us to meet people who we know as friends. Then onto see a family Ann and I know and greet them and their daughters. Lydia was introduced to the obligatory Turkish coffee and glass of raki! Friday morning we took Lydia to see the local market, pazaar, and have coffee. In the afternoon there was a Word Plus teaching time to the leaders of the 6 Newfrontiers churches in Albania when Robert from Lezhe and I spoke. When this had finished Lydia had chance to meet 2 of the Children's workers from Edi and Artina's church in Korca. Here they are having a good talk whilst music and Albanian style dancing is going on in the background. We had more teaching sessions this morning, Saturday, when Robert, Edi from Korca and I spoke followed by lunch of guess what?! This was just part of the 35 large pizzas we got through! Another session from me and Robert and then we were finished this Word Plus training . Ann and Lydia are now on their way to Librazhd with Ilir Qelemeni, as I write this, to meet with the girls there who run their Children's work. Then tomorrow Lydia will see the Children's work here in Elbasan and in the evening meet all the Children's Ministry workers. Below is a photo of Robert speaking to some of the 35 people at the training sessions. We brought out a projector that has already been put to good use and a MP3 recorder to record all the teaching that then can be made available to everyone. As I write this I reflect on what a full and exciting time it has already been and there is more to come. Love from Ann, Lydia and me.