Saturday, 28 April 2012

God knows Lydia doesn't like the sun...

and so we had rain and some sun whilst she and Gita were with us, but the moment the guys arrived, Coiln, Dave and Liam we have had blue sky and SUNSHINE!  Here are the guys with Ann in the centre and Lili from Burrel who travelled with us on the forgon from Tirana to Elbasan.

We are staying in the same apartment we usually use that gives us wonderful views over the city with the mountains still topped with snow in the distance.

Colin and Dave began their first session on Friday evening,

with Arjan translating for Colin

and some more of the musicians and singers.  As Dave has been out to the Youth Camps before and Colin came to Elbasan last November they now know most of the people they are talking to.  It is also great to see friendships being built and renewed amongst the singers and musicians from the different churches.

After a well received first session, it was time for the guys to eat (no shopping!) and return to the apartment.

Saturday morning saw a 9 o'clock start that will go through to 3pm.  Here is Visi from Korca on the drums,

with Lindita, called Vila, singing, with Xhuljo on electric violin and Geni on guitar all from Korca.

and just to finish for now, here is a photo of Diti, Mirjana and Jorida from Tirana.
This morning Liam is with Lili from Burrel, Ilir from Elbasan and Ilir from Librazhd and Edi from Korca talking about and working out the programme for the Youth Camp in July.  I had better get back to see how they are getting on..Lots of love Ken

Monday, 23 April 2012

Lydia and Gita in Albania

 What seems like ages ago, but is only last Thursday, Lydia and Gita and Ann and I left Gatwick bound for Albania.  Lydia and Gita are here to help several churches develop their work amongst children.  First in our time here was meeting the Roma children that Shaban and Elvira work with from their church in Tirana.  Lydia introduced them to games with her multi coloured parachute.  We played these indoors as it was pouring with rain outside.  As you can see the kids loved it!  A quantity of materials were left with the leaders for their use with the children.

 Here is a photo of Lydia and Gita with the children present on that day.  Numbers vary quite a bit, but they are taught to read and write, fed and helped with clothing and they also hear  the news of Gods love for them through Jesus.

 And before we left they had a time to pray with the leaders of the work with the Roma children.
Then it was time to catch a minibus to Elbasan.  After leaving our things in the apartment in Elbasan we were ready to eat, so fast food was the order of the day,

 which went down well with Lydia and Gita!  Then the task of getting our food from the supermarket for the next few days, and settling in ready for the gathering of children's workers on Saturday. We had an evening meal with Ilir and Rudina who lead the church in Elbasan, to catch up with them and hear how their church is doing and learn of their expectations for the next day.

 Children's workers came from Elbasan, Librazhd and Korca, which is almost 3 hours journey away.  Here are 3 of the leaders from Elbasan, Adiana, Yeta and Blerina taking it all in.  What Lydia and Gita had to say was a great encouragement to the childrens workers.  Gita was able to speak about her experiences of running childrens work in a country that also has little money and not many resources readily available.

 After a busy day we had an evening meal.  The roses seemed a good foreground for a picture of Gita.

 Sunday morning was time for the children's work to be put into practise as Lydia and Gita spent time with the children whilst I spoke to the increasing numbers of people being gathered in the church.

 On the Saturday evening Gita ordered prawns, but was surprised when they came all displayed like this.  All quite a cultural change for Gita who is from Lithuania. 

 This photo is of the time Lydia and Gita had on Sunday morning again with the parachute.  The Elbasan church have a large basement where the children gather, ideal in the hot summers but very very cold in winter.

 All the activities were interspersed with cups of coffee. Here is one venue they like at Divina, a revolving  coffee bar high above the city of Elbasan and a place that commands wonderful views of the surrounding mountains that are still covered with snow.

 On Sunday evening we had a lovely ,meal at the home of Ilir and Rudina, the church leaders. 
On Monday it was time to show Gita and Lydia some of the sights of Elbasan.  These include the Ethnographic Museum, which may sound tiresome, but it is in an old Ottoman house with a beautiful balcony and with rooms decorated as they would have been in times past.  It is a good introduction to Turkish Muslim culture that has prevailed here for almost 500 years.

 Here they both are on the via Egnatia, the old Roman road from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul), that runs through the centre of Elbasan.  We then toured the old town that is encompassed by the walls of the former Turkish fort.  The electrics leave a bit to be desired, but this are is home to the oldest Orthodox Church in Elbasan and to the oldest Mosque.

 Being with 3 women is very different to being with the guys, Colin, Dave and Liam who will come out this coming Thursday.  The girls are shoppers!! We seldom walk straight pass a shoe shop or clothes shop!

 Finaly, for the moment, here is a photo of the refurbished Skampa Theatre.  It was very badly damaged by fire just after our concert there last year.  Nothing to do with us of course!  But it has been very wonderfully and beautifully restored.  We send our love from us all and we look forwarsd to seeing Colin and Liam and Dave here in 3 days time.  Tomorrow it is time for Lydia and Gita to pack their bags, travel back to Tirana and fly home, their wonderful work well done!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Pervomaiske and a Tartar church

At 08.30 on the Sunday morning I was collected by the Pastor of the church in Pervomaiske and driven for an hour to the small town of about 9,000 people. In the photo above,the Pastor is on the left at the front. After the worship I preached and then several in the church took part, reading scriptures or singing songs. My interpreter Julia said this was usual for them at Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. Here are four of the ladies who read scriptures about Christ being risen.

After the meeting the church were having lunch together just as the church in Balaclava had done, but I was whisked away with the pastor and Julia and her husband Roman to lunch in a nearby house.

Here are Julia and Roman. It was Julia's first time to translate in a church meeting.

After lunch I met up with Martyn who had preached at the church in Armyansk, and we travelled back to Simferopol to a Tartar church led by Andrei, photo below. Historically the Tartar people are Muslim.

For worship the women singers and musicians wear their national dress and they sing in the Crimean Tartar language. All other speaking and preaching is in Russian.

The children were invited to recite a verse of scripture. If they could do this in Russian they received a chocolate bar, if they could speak it in Tartar they received a Kinder surprise.

Again Martyn spoke on the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead, and then we prayed for sick people to be well and prayed and prophesied over people.

A year ago when in this church we heard the remarkable story that the lady below has to tell how Jesus healed her and her son. Briefly, she was in hospital to give birth to her 6th child by C section, when the nursing staff gave her too much anaesthetic. She went into a coma and was put on a life support machine. During this time Jesus came to her three times dressed as a doctor and told her not to fear as she would be healed. When she awoke from her coma she began to disconnect herself from the life support machine, and told the medical staff of her vision. They thought she had lost her mind. Then some Orthodox believers passed by her room door carrying an icon of Jesus that was exactly as she had seen in her vision. She exclaimed that this was the man she had seen during her coma and in that moment believed on Jesus. Later, she prayed for one of her sons at home who had never walked from birth. That night her husband heard movement and going to the bedroom door found their son who had never walked, walking. Many in her village have come to Christ and her story has impacted many other Tartar people.

Her remarkable story brought our time in the Crimea to a close. It was home to my host, yet another meal, and a very early start on Monday morning getting me back to Gatwick by midday.

A video clip of a Tartar girl dancing during worship.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Training days

One of the main reasons for going to the Crimea was to spend a whole day talking to about twenty pastors of churches about eldership and elders working together in leading a local church. Where we have a history in our country of democracy, they have a history of autocracy. Therefore gathering a team all who have a contribution but who willingly hear each other and work together, coming to agreement on the way ahead is a novel idea, and not an easy one to grasp. The morning and the afternoon were given over to biblical teaching on this and the work of apostles. But even the best of times have to be punctuated with a lunch, as here with Martyn in the foreground.

After a whole day of this it was time for some fresh air and where better than by the sea. Here are some of the Russian sailors queueing for a local ferry.

The Russian flag flies proudly from their naval base.

Sevastopol is a separate municipality apart from the rest of the Crimea, and after the fall of communism it became a matter of serious dispute between the Ukraine and Russia because of its strategic importance.

Below is the apartment block where we stayed.

Saturday morning saw us meet with two church leaders from Sevastopol and Armyansk and discuss pastoral issues.

Sevastopol has many forms of transport. Here is a one of the many trolley buses. It was time too for us to be on the move and head north, through Simferopol to Armyansk, at the top of the Crimea, where the Crimea joins the mainland of the Ukraine.

Much of the Crimean countryside is just plain flat. Just like my home area of the fens of Lincolnshire. I liked it and felt very much at home. A big expanse of sky, flat fertile soil growing the same crops as in the fens, wheat, potatoes and vegetables.

By five thirty we had arrived at a small cafe in Armyansk and ready to eat. We were served some of the best food we had in our time in the Ukraine. Wonderful home made borsch (beetroot) soup followed by pork chops and potatoes. We were well fed and ready for another day.

Sevastopol and Balaclava

We travelled to Sevastopol and straight to McDonalds to have our lunch and coffee. Yuri, on the left leads a church in the city and Alex leads a church in Balaclava and is also our main translator from Russian to English. The Crimea is predominantly Russian speaking. Sevastopol must have at least 375,000 people and is a major resort and port on the Black Sea. The Russians have a navy base here.

After a meeting to catch up on how their churches are doing, they took us to a drug rehabilitation centre outside Sevastopol run by the church. The house is home to about 50 men and women.

One of the things some of the guys are able to undertake is car repair.

These two young ladies are the cooks, who fed the whole community. I told them that they are heroes! Because not only is it constant hard work, but this is what they were cooking everything on!

This simple wood burning stove! Yes, cooking for 50 people every day!

The guys are kept busy cutting wood for the stove, growing food, keeping pigs and ducks etc.

One of the many bedrooms. Privacy is definitely at a premium. But the centre is seeing people come to Christ regularly, and several of the young men are being used in church leadership

After this we travelled along the coast to Balaclava. This is the city that gives its name to a battle fought on 25 October 1854 during the Crimean War made famous by the charge of the Light Brigade. Balaclava helmets were knitted hoods worn here by soldiers in the bitter weather of the Crimean war. In Soviet times it was a secret submarine base, but now a marina. After a stroll, we went to a house where most of the church was gathered.

Last weekend was Easter for those in Orthodox countries like the Ukraine, a week after our Easter. The church had fasted for a few days and now on the Thursday evening were gathering to have communion and eat together.

I was asked to lead the communion when we remember that Jesus lived and died for us and rose from the dead on the third day. We prayed together for the local church, and then we had another wonderful substantial meal.

Salads are fresh,

and always accompanied with pickles.

After the meal it was time for farewells, and back to our accommodation in Sevastopol for the night.

Back in the Uraine!*

After more than a year it was very good to be back in the Ukraine. Here is part of Borispol Airport, Kiev. I flew out to Kiev last Wednesday from Gatwick, and after a meal at Kiev airport, took an internal flight to Simferopol, the regional capital of the Crimea.

Ukraine food, like most Slav food is hearty. This was a superb meal of pork topped with fried sour cabbage, and potatoes. It was just what I needed. Then a short walk to the domestic terminal and an evening flight to Simferopol. The leader of the Tatar church in the city, Andrei, and his wife met me at the airport and took me to my hosts home for the night.

Here is my host Rastan, outside the apartment block the next morning, as we wait to meet up with Martyn Dunsford from the Newfrontiers church in Hedge End, who had just flown in from Istanbul.
*Back in the Ukraine reminded me of the 1968 Beatles song "Back in the USSR". Their song title has more of a ring to it! Those who know the song may recall it has the line "Ukraine girls really knock me out" That's not why I went! - I had better move on!