Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Goodbyes are important!

After our goodbyes to Edi and Arta we made our journey to Elbasan in the heat. Now a quicker journey than coming as we are travelling literally down hill most of the way. Korca, because of its altitude is known in Albania as an apple growing area, with mile after mile of apple trees in blossom. Through Pogradec, where we will hold the Youth Camp in July, Qafë Thane, Perrenjas, Librazhd and onto Elbasan. Then time to collapse and cool off from the heat, and then Ann gets the washing machine going!
Sunday morning found us saying our farewells to the people in the Elbasan church, but knowing we will be here again in July with Ida Sinakoli from our church before going to the Youth Camp. Liam and Dave Betts with Josh Grimmett and Ben Weeks will also come out with is and they will go to Korca to be with Edi and Arta before the Camp.
In the evening we had a meal at Ilir and Rudina's house, with their 3 daughters, again finalising conversations before.....the power went off! When I first came to Albania this was a regular occurrence. ( I remember being with Ann staying in the Grand Hotel in Korca and it had NO electricity and NO water! Not exactly Grand. ) The city of Elbasan was plunged into darkness, only cafes or restaurants with their own generator had power. And it started to pour, absolutely pour with rain as it can do in Mediterranean countries. Nothing else to do but wait for the rain to stop and power be restored which happened eventually. Final farewells and we walked home.
Monday morning Rudina and her daughter Amaris came to say Goodbye, and then we made our way to Tirana.

We had arranged to meet up with Mirjana who would like to come on our Academy year of training. She and Jorida, who also wants to come, are part of Shaban's church in Tirana. We have known them for several years through the Youth Camp and the worship training Colin Boyle and Dave Betts have done. So a bus ride, 30 Lek, 20p, however far you go, into the city centre and we had lunch together and talked through the possibility of her coming on the Academy.

A phone call to Tomorri and Miranda, who we had met at the Elbasan conference, and they repeated their invitation for an evening meal at their home. They lead Victory Church here in Tirana. So just before 7pm, Tomorri picked us up and brought us to their apartment that they share with Miranda's two younger sisters. Accommodation in Tirana, like any capital city, is expensive and so Miranda's sisters live with them until they can get a secure job and save for their own place.
This was the first time we had a real conversation with them and could hear their life story, where they met and how they come to lead the church. Miranda comes from a village near Elbasan and so knows all the people we know and a load more. Miranda prepared some superb food, with the help of her sisters and we had the joy of eating their hard work. Again, Miranda is keen that some young people she knows from their church in Tirana and from the village church her brother runs, could come to the Youth Camp. This we said is mainly a matter of para, para, money, money, but we promised to look at this and be in touch with them.
So late at night, gone 11pm, we made our Goodbyes, looking forward to when we may next see them. One more nights sleep, and then it is time to pack our suitcases, head for the airport and fly back home. Another time in Albania endeavouring to help the Church here to grow and build the Kingdom of God has come to an end.
Ken and Ann.

Korca Part 2

The next day Edi took us to Bilisht, a town near the Border with Greece, to meet Arjan, below who has a church there.

Arjan showed us round his church building and their facilities and then we sat and talked. His wife comes from Librazhd, the town we had been to the previous Saturday and Ann and I knew her from there. Arjan was very interested at the possibility of their youth coming to our Youth Camp. There are so few opportunities of young people coming together in a Christian setting. Camps for small children are quite common. They will have activities in the morning and then go home for lunch and be home the rest of the day. But to take young people away to a purpose built centre, all meals included and be away 4 days, have really good worship and teaching is most unusual. I don't know another Camp like it in Albania and I have asked around a lot.


The late afternoon was spent with Edi and Artina talking about their church, the issues they have such as lack of space, buildings, money, potential leaders and so on.


The next morning we went to Lake Prespa. This is an area of Albania that is Macedonian speaking hence the road signs like this one. It is a quiet, peaceful, beautiful area. It is where the countries of Albania, Macedonia and Greece meet.


Time for coffee in a very small cafe, no one else there apart from us and the owner, but beautiful views all round. What the photo cannot show you is how HOT it is! Cloudiness in England like this would mean cool, but not here. It is very close, very humid.

Back to Korca and in the late afternoon we met with the young people from Edi's church. I have shown a number of photos as several of our guys back in Bracknell will recognise people from Youth Camp.







They worshipped, then I spoke, they played some games and then more interactive stuff. We talked about the problems they face, mainly trying to find work and jobs. You may have noticed that several of them have a dark skin colour. Albanians refer to them as Egyptians, ( it is thought this comes from Alexander the Great bringing soldiers from Egypt who stayed) and so they are looked down on and even despised though not as much as Roma. Several of them have been refused jobs out right because they are "Egyptian". Potential employers ask outright "What is your ethnicity?"

Esmerelda, in the last photo, works in a clothes making factory, 7 days a week for €60 a month! Ann and her talked about her having her own sewing machine at home and making things to sell and provide an income. Flori and her plan to marry at the end of June. Esmerelda's father died in the troubles a few years ago, and her mother ran away, so she lives with an aunt. She posses nothing other than her clothes. As a couple they will look to his family and the goodness of God through the kindness of the church to provide for them.

Last Friday was Good Friday in the Orthodox calendar. They are 5 weeks behind our Easter. So on Friday as we left the Youth Meeting we met the parade coming from the Orthodox Church. The parade was led by the town band,

Followed by the young priests walking backwards holding the incense holders


And the main clergy with the Bishop


Followed by about 5 to 10,000 people.



And then our final coffee together with Edi and Artina, with Clinton on the left and Flori and Esmerelda. This where we try to tie up any loose ends, talk about the Youth Camp again and who will do what and say our farewells. We had spent 4 busy days with Edi, meeting all their leaders and people and cementing a relationship that we already had. It is not often I feel this but leaving Edi was almost heart breaking for me. I feel for him in the task he has on his hands in building the church.

Saturday morning saw us climb aboard our furgon back to Elbasan and the start of our journey home to Bracknell. But still some more people to meet, and conversations to have.

Ken and Ann


Sunday, 5 May 2013

Korca Part 1

When we arrived Edi, on the right above, who leads the church was there to greet us and we went to a cafe for a drink with Flori, in the photo, and other guys. Some of our guys will remember Flori as he came second in Albania's version of Who's got talent, and he sang with our band when we held the concerts in Elbasan and Librazhd.  We caught with everyone and then to our hotel.  There is no one in Edi's church who has the space to put us up.  The whole area where we had coffee is a market area, pazaar, and Edi and his father were market traders.  Ann bought a tave, a large flat pan for cooking meat, potatoes and vegetables in all at the same time.

Korca is considered to be Albania's cultural capital. It has many fine buildings. At the end of the first World War for a short time Korca was declared a Republic and protected by France.  Albania's first boys and then girls schools were built here and French taught in the schools, the only place in Albania to do this.

Having then booked ourselves into the hotel, had a wash and sorted ourselves, it was time to go to a Lifegroup run by Olsi, the guy in the photo below, on the left. Some of them we knew already such as Elvis, a drummer, in the back on the right, and Kostika in the centre at front who translated for us. Just in front of Elvis is the lady whose house we were in and on her right behind the boy is Xhenie, (Jenny) a nurse who is training to be a midwife, only she cannot afford the exam fee. The biggest issue for most people in the church and for the people of Korca is getting work.  People who do work often work 7 days a week, yes all 7 days, for very little money.  It is a problem with a mixed Muslim and Christian Orthodox society, people are always at work, there is no one accepted time off from work or holidays.  An evening meal with Edi and Artina and their son Michael, and that was the end of day one in Korca.

The next day was the 1st May, a holiday for some, and so we went with Edi and Artina, their son Michael, Clinton, a South African guy from the Newfrontiers Worthing church and us in their VW Golf to Dardhe. Dardhe is up in the mountains and is Albania's only ski resort. Snow is till on the mountain tops.  Dardhe started life as an escape place for Orthodox Christians who didn't want to accept Muslim rule. Now it is an area where people go to at weekends to escape to the countryside, have picnics and cook over an open fire. Some with money have built themselves expensive private retreats like this below.

Or this

Original houses look like this below.

This is us, just in case you have forgotten what we look like!

Edi and Artina tucking in!  We ate roast lamb, chips, Greek salad, grilled vegetables and lakror me sac.

This is the lakror me sac, which was new to us.  It is like thin pancakes with a tomato and onion filling or spinach filling. Very tasty.

On our way home we saw these ladies cooking lakror me sac in the field over an open fire for the family picnic.

Then back to Korca for two Childrens worker meetings.  The 5-11's and then the 11-14's.  At the meetings we are meeting their key workers, sitting in and hearing their plans and the learning the way they do things and the issues they have.  It is much the same as working with children any where; never enough helpers, our equipment gets used by other people and so on! A meal at Edi and Arta's home and the end of another day.

Friends...and onto Korca

One of the most important things we do here is meet people, build friendships and then maintain that friendship.  We love and are surprised at who God brings across our path.  Last Sunday I spoke at the church here in Elbasan and then in the afternoon we had coffee with Blerim and Rudina with their baby daughter Amaris who was born last December.  We stay in an apartment that is owned by Blerim's aunt.  So we have got to know this couple well. Blerim is an artist, a painter, and uses his art to introduce Christ to people. 

Later we walked down the old Via Egnatia, the old Roman road that went from Rome to the New Rome, Constantinople.  Constantin wanted to call it New Rome but the people named it after him.  The road runs through Elbasan on, up into the mountains, into Macedonia and then onto Thessaloniki and then Istanbul.  This road is still the main road, used by all the truck drivers coming from Turkey and northern Greece, who are heading for Italy and western Europe.  This is a bit of the original road, now one of the back streets in Elbasan that has been re-cobbled with EU money.

Then an evening meal with Ilir and Donika and their children Daniel and Lysania, another excellent family in the church.

On the Monday we had a meal with Ilir and Rudina and their 3 girls Sara, Eliada and Abigaila. It is Ilir and Rudina who lead the church we go to, so it was a meal but conversation all the time about their church, the way ahead, the people they are using and hope to use, the vision they have, the hard work they have done, their thankfulness for all that the Bracknell have done for them. Colin, Dave Betts, Liam, Lydia and many others have all been here providing training for them and other Albanian churches plus the concerts we have held here with our bands with Matt Price and others and then the money we have given to provide their kitchen.  I count them as an excellent couple who have a great love for God, and believe in excellent standards that is so evident in all they and their church do.  Now though it was time to say Goodbye for the moment, as we planned  to be back there next Sunday.

Tuesday meant another day travelling, this time to Korca about 3 hours away or a bit less. Those of you who have been here now this is not always easy or straight forward. We travel by local transport, a minibus called a furgon, that can vary in standards considerably.  There is no MOT here!  Let it be said though, I have never felt not safe.  Many people, especially young people know some English, so usually you can strike up a conversation.  So we prayed, seriously we pray for a furgon to leave straightaway for Korca when we get to the furgon station.  Else you can hang around for half an hour or an hour in the heat waiting for customers.  (It has been 28-30C all the time this past 2 weeks.  It was 32C in Elbasan the day we left, unusually hot for this time of the year.) But God answered wonderfully, the moment we arrived, the fugon was full and away we went to Korca and the next bit of our time here.