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!