Albania Fried Chicken

Day 1

I don’t even know why God brought us down here. What more can we do that He’s not already doing? Today we got off the plane, and found out our luggage won’t arrive until tomorrow. We rode into town with a nice guy who picked us up. We were met at the hotel by Aldo, who is one of the leaders of Ice and Spice.

Jeff at the office

Aldo treated us to a nice dinner. Afterward, we went to the building and joined in the fun. Tonight was Hungarian night; there were four people there from Budapest, 3 students and a leader. The leader appears to have worked with CRU in Albania before. One of the students gave his testimony. The other described in accessible ways some of the major theological necessities of proper belief. She also spoke fluent English, she could have passed for a US citizen.

It’s amazing how similar our cultures are. I met two high school students, Kacie and Marcie, who speak great English, and love Justin Bieber. Later in the night we danced a number of line dances, including the cupid shuffle.

Tonight I was praying that God would move there. It’s all for nothing if He doesn’t move. Through us, or probably more accurately in spite of us, He did. We heard stories of kids accepting Christ in the meeting after it was all done. Lord thank You for the privilege of being a part of your work here, and help us to be well prepared for the week ahead.

Day 2

Today was a pool day. We had a very Albanian continental breakfast at the hotel, then went to the CRU office at around 8:45. From there we took a bus into the hills, to a nice resort-like pool. It was a large pool with a water slide.

We talked more with the Hungarian team. Mari is 25, she is a teacher who also works with CRU in Hungary. Fanny and Peter are 17 and in high school. Peter is studying electronics, he wants to be an engineer. I also talked with Kacie and Marcy again. Kacie can’t not talk about Justin Bieber. All the Albanian girls love him, all the boys hate him. Later I talked with Genti and Frankie. Genti is from Tripoya. He works with CRU now, and they want him to be a missionary to Russia. He speaks several languages including Russian.

Kaon later introduced me to his group of several students, including Saena and Gracie. We talked for a while about America and Albania; meanwhile, as it turned out, Kaon was having a spiritual conversation with the other member of his group. I’m happy to help, even as a distraction. Some of the guys later played frisbee with me at the pool, including Mari, who told me she loves Ultimate. She is going to Texas sometime next year, if she comes to Dallas I will invite her to play Ultimate with me.

After the pool, we had coffee with Afrim, who handles social media for CRU in Albania. I am meeting him tomorrow for lunch. We will go to his office and talk about how I can help there. We had dinner with Kaon at the same restaurant as last night. I had a Kosovo sausage and a Tirana beer. It was very tasty. We enjoyed the conversation and food. Kaon has been to Washington DC, Colorado, and Ohio. Jeff and he reminisced about the Aero project.

Day 3

Today we slept in, since CRU had nothing going on. We decided to be tourists. We walked down the street and took pictures, then we had coffee. Afrim took us to lunch, then we went to the office. Afrim’s office is in the basement; he has windows in the upper corner with bars on them. We joked that it was his dungeon.

Typical Tirana city block
Albanian people's soldier

We talked about their website and facebook. The kids are all on facebook, but the CRU page is not that popular. Afrim has a recording booth. It would be good to do a podcast, but he would need help from Kaon and Aldo to provide content. Afrim talked about wanting to do a phone app which would provide slides or animations for a 4 spiritual laws presentation. He wanted to be able to play with it to customize it. I will do some research.

At 5 we met Kaon and several students for coffee. Their names were Adi, Pirro, Renis, Richard, Petro, Kleon, and Klevin. They asked us about America, then we got to share our stories. I talked about how I wanted money and success, until God revealed to me that if Jesus rose from the dead, money and success didn’t matter. I told them how I have Joy now, that my happiness comes from God.

Pirro said he didn’t believe God exists. Kaon talked to him about the moral law and the moral lawgiver (argument from morality). Then he talked about the big bang and the need for an architect. He broughtup that the 2nd law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution. Pirro later said that he doesn’t believe we came from apes anymore, and he will come to church tomorrow! Adi translated for me.

We left the coffee place feeling good. God has done something here tonight, we will have to wait to see exactly what.

Day 4

Today was a day of rest and fellowship. We began with church service at the CRU office. The worship songs were in Albanian, but had familiar tunes. There were other American groups there, from Kansas City and Atlanta. They had just returned from the English camp in Vlore. The preacher today was an American who has lived in Albania for many years. He and his wife are both Aggies. The message was on God’s desire to reach all the nations, and focused on the Old Testament ( Isaiah, Psalms, 2 Samuel ). We got to meet his wife afterward.

lunch with the student volunteers

When the service finished, Kaon led us & a group of students to his place for lunch. From last night, only Petro and Renis were there, but I got to meet Gracie, Encie, Hyrie, Klejdi, Marco, Daniel, Sara, Enki and Frida. We played games while Kaon’s wife cooked. They were typical high school games, like hand slapping games and charades. Will and Jeff had some good conversations with Marcoand a couple other boys, while I joined the games. We ate, then took pictures and left around 3:30.

Back at the hotel, Will took a nap while Jeff and I had coffee across the street. We talked about how the trip was going so far, then about work, and people watched. I confessed that I was trying to get over the idea that I have to be spiritually productive, that a “mission trip” must be about how many people were saved. I think God desires for us to just be a part of what He is already doing here.

We had dinner with Afrim and his wife Lavdi. Lavdi made a very good pasta, and a delicious cake for Will’s birthday. We talked a lot over dinner, and even tried some Roki, which tastes like Tequila. It is pretty much 100% alcohol.

Looking out over the tirana cityscape

After dinner we talked on their 8th floor balcony overlooking the city. We talked about Albania and Dallas, what is similar and different. Afrim’s daughter Joanna is very cute; she joined us after dinner and told us we were all sad people. We had just finished talking about a very serious subject. Afrim’s son Joel also met us after dinner. He was nice but we did not interact with him very much. We decided to go home around 9:30 so Will could call his parents.

From what I have experienced so far, I think Tirana is a place I could enjoy living. I enjoy the culture here very much.

Day 5

Our first full day of work began at 11am with a meeting of volunteers at the office. We had some worship and prayer, and I led a short devotional. I read from Ephesians 2:4-9, and described the great worth of grace. I talked about how nonbelievers can see the value of grace at work in our lives.

My first suflaqe!

We went for lunch to Big Bite with Aldo, Maureen, Blerina and Alma, to discuss American night. Maureen is an American who is living in Tirana as a special ed teacher. We came up with some good fun games, and decided that I will share my testimony and present the Gospel.

Afterward we went to a new neighborhood by bus. We set up in a restaurant and walked the streets to invite students. At the event we talked about the 4 kinds of love: Storge, Fileo, Eros and Agape. There were skits and singing, much like a youth group event in the USA. There was a 15 year old girl named Jona who sang an Adele song, it was amazing. Another guy sang some very good Italian songs, I heard he is a professional singer. There were two boys at our table, Eri and Andi. They are muslim; Eri reads the Koran and believes it. Andi believes God exists but not the Christian or Muslim god. They were interested in the conversation, and I invited them for coffee tomorrow.

Dinner with Aldo and Blerina

Kristi is a volunteer with Ice and Spice who was at our table. He likes computers and has done some Java programming. He likes it as a hobby. We talked about open source on the walk back from the event. I want to show him Github, so he can continue to play with programming and contribute to an open source project.

The event finished with dancing. There were some traditional dances like you would expect from an eastern European culture, but also the cha-cha slide. It was a lot of fun. When we returned we had dinner with Aldo and Blerina. We had a fantastic time joking and laughing. We talked about philosophy and also a bit of crass humor. A great end to a fantastic day.

Day 6

Today began early. I woke up at 9 and we met Maureen at 10. We were at a coffee bar called the Stpehen Center, which had John 3:16 written on their sugar packets in English and Albanian. We went to the basement to plan out American night. We decided to teach the kids the Boot Scoot ‘n Boogie, so we spent about 30 minutes learning it. It is a fun dance, the kids will love it.

We went with Kaon to lunch with a bunch of the kids. I sat across from Elvina, Ena for short. She is a believer, from a Catholic background. We asked her about another student named Spartan who is Muslim, what he should do to have eternal life. She said that because he is Muslim, she didn’t know, since she doesn’t know how it works in their religion. We showed her what the Bible says (John 14:10, 5:24) and at the end she was able to say that all anyone needs for salvation is to believe in Jesus. It was good to have the opportunity to teach and encourage her like that.

I had to leave lunch early, to meet Eri and Andi for coffee. I grabbed Fatmir to translate. We chatted for a while, then I brought up Jesus. Eri is a devout Muslim; he reads the Koran and prays 5 times a day, and he wants to go to Mecca on a pilgrimage. I talked to him about how the Koran and the Bible say different things about Jesus, and only one can be right. They did not stay for Ice and Spice, I hope they come back tomorrow.

Ice and Spice tonight was a dance party. We danced a number of traditional Albanian dances and some American ones. I hopped on stage when they played the Macarena, since I know that one. I joined Frida’s team for the dance competition. We only got a 2 out of 5 even though I tried to bribe the judges :).

Me and Csaba

After the dance, we enjoyed some homemade Birek that Aldo’s wife Blerina made. It was good, it’s like keesh with beans. Then we had some of Henri’s birthday cake, and then it was time for dinner.

Tonight was the last night for the Hungarian team. Csaba, Mari, Fanny and Peter treated us to a hungarian all-you-can-eat buffet. The food was delicious and we had a great time. I talked to Fanny about staying connected to Church, since she is going to College soon. I shared about the years I wasted in College and following, and how much I regret that. I am going to give her my copy of the Holiness of God.

I got a picture with Csaba. He is one of those men whom you know God is working through. He’s a bit of an inspiration, how he has been so faithful to come to Albania so often for so many years. I hope that we will see the Hungarian team again if we go back next year.

Today was another wonderful day, and tomorrow will be even better.

Day 7

The morning started with a good long conversation with Jeff. He is talking about getting Watermark to sponsor future trips to Albania. He would like to bring high school students back with us. I talked about how I’ve noticed in Albania even the poor have a solid family. It is very important to their culture. I had read an article about the epidemic of faithlessness in America, especially among the black population, and told him how that breaks my heart.

We saw the Hungarian team at noon and sent them off. I gave Fanny that book, she appreciated it. I would like to see them again; hopefully I can come back next year. Aldo, Blerina, and Eri Godole ( a female CRU leader, not the kid I had coffee with yesterday ) invited me for coffee. We talked about the mission of CRU in Albania and she asked me to partner with her financially. That is something I would love to do. We also invited our waiter, an 8th grade boy named Tiger, to come to Ice and Spice.

We were about to have lunch when I remembered Andi and Eri, the boys I had coffee with yesterday. If they were coming today, they would come at 2, so I waited for them. They didn’t show up so I was able to get lunch with Aldo and Blerina. There was also another American team scouting future opportunities for the world race. They have been in Albania 3 weeks in one of the villages, hosting a camp. They exchanged contact info with Aldo.

We were supposed to have English club at 3, but Maureen was sick today so it was canceled. Instead, we had coffee with Daniel, Olivia, Alba, and 3 other boys whose names I can’t remember. Aldo, Will, Jeff and I were all there. Olivia and her brother were kind of argumentative. She says, “I believe there is a god, and that’s it.” We talked about the meaning of the work Agnostic, and whether people are by nature good or bad. The other 2 boys seemed interested.

Afterward the kids made crafts depicting some topic which is a modern issue. From what I can remember, there was:

  • The Bible
  • Safe Sex
  • Racism
  • Violence against women
  • Technology
  • Abortion (2 groups did this)
  • Global Warming

I was a judge. The kids had good presentations, we will find out who won tomorrow.

After dancing, the kids went home. I have coffee with Arjad and Denis tomorrow at 2. We had a meeting afterwards where we shared our conversations with students.

After the meeting we went with Aldo to Pizza Time. We had a great discussion on protestantism and how we lack a structure of authority over the churches. I just wish there was someone with authority to excommunicate Joel Osteen. I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with Aldo this past week.

Day 8

Last full day in Albania. In the morning I practiced my testimony. I wrote down the references for Romans Road on my arm so I would not forget. I had a conversation with Will before we left to meet with Avni.

We had lunch with Avni and a couple other guys. We discussed the needs of the CRU organization in Albania and how we could partner with them to bring more resources. Jeff wants to start talking to leaders at Watermark about a long-term partnership. Avni will be in Texas in a couple months, we can set up some meetings.

I had coffee at 2 with Arjad and Aldo. Denis did not show. Arjad is a skeptic and a smart guy. We talked about how historical facts can lead us to God, even if we cannot make a logical proof of His existence. He had questions about the fairness of grace. We read to him the parable of the vineyard owner in Matthew. Aldo came up with a good illustration. He said that we are all falling next to a building or cliff. We throw out grappling hooks to try to catch ourselves. I am a bad guy, I miss by a lot and continue falling. You are a better guy, you only missed by a little. Unfortunately we are still falling. Aldo and I have asked Jesus to save us. We have been miraculously caught by Him. Arjad asked if we felt it when we were caught, and we both said yes. We asked him, has he asked Jesus to save him, or is he still falling? We ended by telling him that we like to talk to smart guys, because smart guys can admin when we are wrong. I told him if someone showed me the bones of Jesus, then I would renounce my faith. Would he change his mind when he sees evidence for the resurrection?

Will playing the guitar

We then went to set up for American night. I went with Maureen to get soda and asked her why she came to Albania. She is a special ed teacher who was fed up with paperwork and limitations in the US, so she found an Albanian school through a foreign job fair.

Before American night started we had group time, where the groups discussed evidence of the Resurrection. Arjad was there for the group time. Maureen and I made popcorn for the relay race later, then I joined one of the groups. The kids were really participating. Daniel asked me about what I was going to say from the stage later. I told him how my life changed when I believed the resurrection. He said, “so then my life is changing”, and I said yes. He is a new believer.

American night was a huge success. We had a 50 states quiz after some videos showing all the names of the states. Then I gave my testimony, followed by the Romans Road. I noticed Arjad in the audience during this time. I highlighted that I gained Joy when I became convinced of the truth of the resurrection.

Maureen sang the Star Spangled Banner, then Will played a John Mayer song. Then we cleared the chairs for the relay race. There were 6 teams, 3 on either side. The first part was eating a cup full of popcorn. Then the kids hopped in a potato sack to the center, where they spun around a baseball bat 10 times and ran back. The kids didn’t seem to understand until the first group did the bats and got dizzy, then they all burst out laughing. One kid got confused and ran to the wrong wall. Another fell and was too dizzy to get up so his friends dragged him back to his group.

We showed them how to do the Boot Scoot ‘n Boogie, then we had a dance party. I took some video, I want to remember the dances. After dancing, we had the staff meeting. There were a lot of good coffee conversations, more than normal. God moved tonight.

We went out for dinner afterward. I sat next to Dionys, Eri and her roommate. We talked about a number of things, then we played a scripture memory game. They know more scripture than I do, I need to work on that. Aldo gave a goodbye toast, then we all parted ways. I really want to come back next year.