Day 1

Today was a nice break. We canceled the morning trip to Kruja, because all the Americans (including me) were worn out from the high schoolers. I slept in till about 9:30, then camped out with Wes and Chris at Mulliri Vjeter. They had to finish working on last minute changes to their presentations. We met up with the staff team for a relaxing lunch. The American team and staff got introduced to each-other and we had a nice relaxing time.

The Young Professionals Committee photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

We met again at the office for a dinner with the whole set of Young Professional volunteers. I gave a devotional & encouragement out of 2 Corinthians 2-3. We talked about being an aroma of Christ this week. We went over the schedule and responsibilities, hen spent some time praying together. We prayed for God to bring lots of new people, and to move mightily here.

After the meeting the staff had a surprise for us! They led us outside and Adi shot off a bundle of fireworks. But it wasn’t anchored to anything and flipped on it’s side! Fortunately no-one was hurt. God’s protecting us :) We had Ice Cream together as well, and all us Americans sang The Star Spangled Banner. It was a great way to spend the 4th.

Day 2

I’ve been having to deal with some personal stuff during this time as well. Pal and I are moving out of our house, for the next month we’ll be living at a friend’s house while they’re in America in order to take care of their dog. So I headed over there early with some luggage, and started some laundry. After that I trekked back to Mulliri Vjeter and met up with Will and Wes around 9:30. They just finished meeting with Adi and one of his friends, and were on their way to meet Enerik. It’s good that they’re busy! I hung out with Pal until 10:30 and then went to my Albanian lesson.

After having lunch with the guys, I headed to Relax bar and met Arben, a YP whom Adi and I had met some time ago. Chris joined us, and I attempted to translate the conversation. Arben is a Muslim who goes to the mosque regularly, but is not as committed as he’d like to be. He said he’d like to learn more about Jesus and Christianity, though maybe we need a better translator.

I went back home to let the dog out and prep for the meeting. We got started at 5:30ish setting up. Everyone arrived at 6:30, and we began at 7. Wes did a great job with his seminar on negotiation. We had some small group discussion and everyone was extremely interested! The best thing though was how many new people showed up! Not only did Adi invite all his friends, some of the attendees had just happened to see the event on Facebook & decided to come. Wes told me he and Will made several coffee appointments.

Wes giving his excellent seminar photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

I went right after the meeting to coffee with a friend of Berti Berhami’s, named Jonito. Jonito is a very smart guy. He knows a lot of information but has no consistent worldview. He says he’ll be coming back tomorrow, but my fear is that he’ll take the teachings of Jesus and add them to everything else, in order to make his life better. He won’t accept the transforming power of the Gospel. I’ll be praying for him.

We finished the night at Zgarra Korçarë, an Albanian style grill which has delicious meatballs. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Tirana. Wes and I had a great conversation about seeking opportunities to grow in your faith. He told me all the ways he’s trying to grow, and the only thing I can think to add is “don’t grow weary”. I’m glad he’s here on this team to share his experience with these young professionals.

Day 3

Today was a great day! We started out with coffee at Mulliri Vjeter with Arben and his friend from the mosque. He wanted to have coffee with us again to talk more about our beliefs. It was a very interesting conversation, unfortunately it was mostly in Albanian. It was very difficult for me to translate for Chris, I’m not quite to the point where I can express everything he wanted to express. But it was a good test for me. Chris told them at one point that he was given a message from God for them. They asked him if he had spoken directly with God, and he said yes. It’s very direct, and they didn’t believe it, but it’s true. I should try that line myself sometime. Their main problem seemed to be that they don’t know enough about Islam to respond to our questions & statements about Christianity. They haven’t studied the Hadith, which is the set of commentaries by Muslim leaders about the Qur’an. They told us that we should talk to the Imam. We might end up going to the mosque with them on Friday.

One of Adi’s friends, Erind, joined us about 10:30. He is a believer who attends an Evangelical church in Elbasan. He listened for a while and chatted with the two guys a bit until they left. I got to translate for him and Chris for a bit, it turns out that one of the kids from Ice and Spice goes to Erind’s church. So he and Chris have a mutual friend. After a bit, Ricard came to hang out too. Ricard is a good guy who is a young believer. He was part of Ice and Spice a couple years ago, which is where I first met him. Now he’s a working professional and is part of our small group. I would love for him to get more involved in ministry but he’s very busy with work, usually working late.

I said goodbye to those guys about noon and went to lunch with Will, Chris, and Wes. We met Genti at a greek grill and hung out there for an hour. Genti told them all about his times in Dallas, how a lot of his support comes from Northwest Bible Church. He’ll be going back there next year to meet up with all his supporters. Wes is planning to ensure that Genti gets some barbeque.

Chris sharing his testimony photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

In the afternoon I went back home for a bit to relax. Soon enough it came time to get ready for the seminar. I biked down to the office and helped get everything set up. Today was Chris’ turn to talk. He did an amazing job sharing his story, and shared a really great poem! Ilir was able to translate it to Albanian, and read it after he finished the English version. It seemed to be very impactful. His gospel presentation was also very clear and powerful. It’s a great opportunity just to be able to present the Gospel to such a large group. I was praying during the whole time that God would open their hearts and remove the veil from their eyes.

One of the small groups photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

We were organized in small groups, and I was with all of Adi’s friends plus a few others. Few of them spoke english, so I didn’t talk a lot. I did share a bit about my life while we were playing Soularium. Later during the discussion time I heard a lot of good discussion going on. We had a good mix of believers and non-believers. I hope it was impactful. Adi will ask them tomorrow if any of them accepted Jesus tonight.

We packed up and headed out for dinner with Berti, Adelina, Ilir and Lida. We talked a lot about the future at that dinner. The guys are definitely enjoying this time with the young professionals, and want to do it again next year for sure. We also talked about opportunities with business leaders and teachers, the other two aspects of the LLM ministry. There’s definitely opportunity for Watermark to partner more closely with CRU Albania, if we find the people back home willing to do it. This would be very helpful for CRU Albania’s desire to expand so as to meet their very ambitions 2020 goal, that “Everyone would know someone who truly follows Jesus”. We’ll need more partners to expand into all the cities in Albania in order to accomplish this. I’m definitely hoping for more partnership opportunities in the future.

Day 4

This morning I didn’t have any coffees scheduled, so I went to hang out at Mulliri Vjeter with Pal & Blerim. Wes and Chris joined us after a bit. We just talked about random stuff and hung out until 10:30, when I went to my Albanian lesson. I met my teacher at another coffee shop, where she had just finished teaching Lauren. Lauren is doing really good, but she still feels overwhelmed unfortunately. Learning a new language is hard. Flora, our teacher, starts with grammar and structure of the language. It’s really tough to tear down your mental structures for English and build up new structures for another language. It’s awesome that Lauren is trying, and I hope that she can keep it up after she goes back to the states.

After I finished my lesson I went with the Americans to the Stephen Center for lunch. We got a really tasty cheeseburger over there. Will unfortunately had some more work to do right after lunch so he pulled out his computer and got to it. He’s been working from 6am to 3pm every day this week, in addition to all the Young Professionals activities. It’s a tough thing to do but I think it’s a good example for our YPs to follow. I’m excited to hear his talk on Saturday.

Mira and Adi administering the food quiz photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

After lunch I went to the office and prepped some food for the American/Albanian culture night. I made sweet tea, lemonade, and salsa. It took about an hour, then I went home to relax and let the dog out. I got dressed up in a very Texas-y outfit, including boots and a bandana. On the way back I picked up my Texas flag from the previous house (which I’m not quite yet moved out of, but I have time). I got to the office just in time to start helping out. We put up the Texas flag stretching between the flagpoles of the American and Albanian flags, and used some tape to secure it. My tea and lemonade got set up on one table, while a bunch of Albanian food got set up on the other table. It’s too bad I couldn’t make some nachos, that would have been a good “American dish” to have for the event.

Will & the texas quiz photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

Mira was the MC for the event, and she dressed up in a traditional Albanian dress. I love the colors of the traditional Albanian clothing, it’s very bold and beautiful. She started the event with a blind taste test. I volunteered to be one of the contestants, and managed to guess the Bakllava, Kackavall cheese, and Raki (which is a very strong Albanian liquor), but I didn’t know the rest. After the taste test we had a “quiz of songs”. They played a bunch of songs and each table got a point for guessing the name of the song and the singer. The Albanians knew all the Albanian songs, and even some Michael Jackson. But noone knew George Strait’s “All My Exes Live In Texas”. They must not listen to a lot of country here.

Wes got up there to talk about the American flag, the symbolism and history behind it. We also learned a bit about the Albanian flag. The two-heads of the eagle represent the two administrative centers of the Roman empire, Rome and Constantinople. A lot of the symbolism comes from the time of Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeg, Albania’s national hero who led them to a somewhat successful rebellion against the Ottoman empire. Unfortunately after he died the Ottomans re-conquered Albania. After the flag discussion Will showed the Texas trivia quiz that they made for the high-schoolers. It worked for the young adults too, they enjoyed the interesting Texas trivia.

Country dancing with the Albanians photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

As a matter of course, the party finished with dancing. We learned several Albanian dances, and then I taught the Copperhead Road dance. I’m getting pretty good at that dance, the Albanians always want to learn it. We also tried teaching two-stepping but it wasn’t too successful. I did learn an Italian partner dance that they do sometimes. This was the first time I had seen it.

Albanian style dancing photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our new friend, the President of the Donald Trump Albania foundation. He is a yuuuuge Donald Trump supporter - his business card reads “Make Albania Great Again”. He came to our event and I talked to him for a bit, he had a lot of interesting stories to tell about famous Albanians living in the USA. He got a picture of him with Will in front of our American flag. I’m pretty sure Will’s face is going to end up on some campaign literature.

Day 5

Today ended up pretty slow. We tried to set up a couple coffees but the appointments fell through. At noon we had a debriefing. We talked about the meetings, what went well and what didn’t. It turns out that 6 people wrote on their comment cards that they had accepted Jesus on Wednesday! So we got to celebrate that a little bit. We contacted a few of them to try to set up coffee but we were unable to meet them.

After the debriefing we went to lunch at a restaurant outside the city. The meat was really good there, but it wasn’t as good as Texas Barbeque. The Ice Cream was amazing. Initially Wes was the only one to get some, but after we tasted his ice cream everyone wanted to get one. As we walked out we got to see the view of the villages in the rolling hills. It’s a really amazing view.

I ran some errands and we gathered back at Mon Cheri about 6. The coffee we set up was a no-show so we just hung out until 8. I met my friend again and had another interesting political conversation. Did you know that George Bush’s family is from Albania? And also George Washington’s? I didn’t. Crazy stuff.

We ended up getting dinner with a bunch of the young professionals committee. I’m glad that we’re able to bond more with them. And I’m glad that they are bonding well with eachother. This is the group that is going to set fire to Tirana, if God’s hand will be with us.

Day 6

The retreat started today! I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It’s pretty much the culmination of our ministry year. We invited all the believers, including some who professed faith at the meetings. We met together for the bus at 8:30, and got underway around 9:15. It was a fun bus ride because the bus was kinda small for the number of people. Some of us had to stand. We arrived at around 10:00 and hung out while Genti got us all organized. He assigned us to our rooms and we took our stuff back into the dorm area.

We gathered together for the first session at about 10:30. Genti went over the hours and rules for the retreat. Then we got to hear from Will. He spoke on “5 things we can do to make God known at work”:

  1. The excellence of the products or services we provide shows the excellence of the God we serve
  2. Our standards of integrity at work show the integrity of God
  3. Our love towards others at work shows the love of God
  4. Our stewardship of money shows the value of God
  5. The verbal testimony we give makes God known explicitly

Will had a lot of great points and many of the young professionals were very encouraged. (In fact, on the next Tuesday one of them told us she had applied some of these at her workplace.) We had a group discussion time afterwards. Will and I were in the same group and got to share some more of our experience applying these ideas to our lives. We had lunch at the retreat center and then most of us went to the pool. It was very hot during the retreat so we spent a lot of time there. It was a very relaxing afternoon, until the bus came to take us to Gedis’ wedding.

We packed about 15 of the young professionals into the bus and headed over to the wedding location on the other side of Tirana. We had a bit of a scramble because Gedis asked me to grab the camera from the office, so that we could record video of the ceremony. Unfortunately I didn’t have a key, so Afrim (the head of the digital ministries department) went to the office to get it himself. Meanwhile I discussed with Kaon, Lauren, and the other photographer (Ylli Doçi’s son Aaron) how we could do videography. Eventually Aaron agreed to do the main videography and Lauren agreed to do photos. This put some extra stress on Lauren and made her much more tired afterwards. But they ended up with a bunch of great photos and video!

The ceremony was much more similar to an American style wedding. Ylli was the preacher and talked, much like Todd or JP would, about the commitment that they were about to make. The procession was very similar, but they had no bridesmaids or groomsmen. They had a buffet style meal, and I witnessed firsthand how Albanians do lines (they don’t have much respect for an orderly queue).

We danced and took a bunch of photos, then loaded back up on the bus about 11. Everyone was super tired on the bus ride back to the camp. We also picked up a couple extra young professionals who had not been there today because they were helping with the wedding. Unfortunately we lost Adi, because he had work on Sunday. In total we had exactly 30 young professionals over the course of the weekend. That was an answer to a prayer I’ve been praying for the past several months.

Day 7

We woke up not too early and had breakfast from 8:30-9:30. The view from the retreat center is beautiful in the morning. I love mountains and rolling hills. Hopefully sometime this next year I can go explore some hiking trails around Tirana.

The morning session opened with worship. We sang several songs in Albanian, but they all were translated from English so we knew the tunes. Then Will played a couple English songs for us on his guitar. I always appreciate opportunities to worship in English. We took a short coffee break and then Lauren began her talk. This was her first time speaking in public, and she did a great job! Her topic was intimately related with her story. She started out by talking about how she came to Christ, and the struggles she’s had throughout her life. I think that really resonated with a lot of girls. She told them that their hunger to feel worth and value is God given, but it can really only be satisfied in Him.

She transitioned to talking about leadership and her experience as a porch team leader. Her initial thoughts of “I can’t do this”, through guidance and prayer turned into a “yes” to being a leader. She shared a few characteristics of leaders: They initiate towards people, they are encouragers, and they make change happen. And she offered some advice for the young professionals as they go back into the culture. She told them to be diligent to grow in the knowledge of the Word of God through reading their bible daily, to train themselves in Godliness, to have an eternal perspective, and to model openness & humility in front of others. It was a really good talk. Several of the young professionals complimented her on it later.

Once she finished, Genti talked for a bit about our plans for next year. He talked about our desire to form a leadership team of young professionals, ones who are committed to the mission. We will be inviting them individually to make that commitment later on. He said that those who are not part of the leadership team should consider how they can take part in the mission. He told them also about our plans for expanding into Elbasan next year. It’s an exciting time to be part of this ministry and I think the young professionals are excited to take part!

Everyone who came to the retreat photo by the beautiful and talented Lauren Dean

We spent the afternoon playing Volleyball and relaxing by the pool. I got a chance to hang out with Wes and talk about various aspects of the trip here. He loved it so much and is excited to help as much as he can once he gets back to the states. He’s thinking already about whom he will invite to come next year, as well as how he can continue to spread the word about Albania. He’s also doing some really interesting stuff at Watermark and continuing to get involved more deeply there. I can see that he’s really full of the Spirit now. Chris was also very excited about Albania. He’s done a great job of encouraging the young professionals with his story and his poetry. Alba asked me if we can study some of his poetry at our next English club meeting. I hope he can continue to have an impact here even as he goes back to Dallas.

The bus pulled up at 5 and we all hopped in to go home. I dropped my stuff off at home, then we went out to the local beer garden and restaurant to eat dinner and watch the European Championship final. Portugal beat France 1-0 in extra time. We had a great celebratory dinner, several of the young professionals came as well. It was a great time reflecting on the week and the state of the ministry. As we head into vacation we are all excited about next year & the opportunities coming up. Will was really excited to bring even more people next year. Here’s to more and more continuing involvement in Albania.

Some of our favorite young professionals photo by Ron Acord