photo by Lauren Dean

Day 1

Today was a travel day for the others, fortunately I didn’t have to travel :). I got to go to church and have a nice afternoon coffee with a friend. We went to go pick up the group at the airport at 5:00, but the plane was delayed a bit. We had a good coffee at the airport waiting for them.

It was great to see everyone at the airport! I’m really excited to spend a week hanging out with both my best American friends and my best Albanian friends. After taking everyone to the airport we went out for dinner at Era restaurant. It was a nice evening so we sat out on the veranda and had great traditional Albanian food.

I sat next to Albert, Will, Bela, Mira and Chris Hyland. Most of the time I was translating for Albert, as he was talking with Will. Looks like one of my biggest roles this week will be as translator. Which is totally fine by me, as long as there will be plenty of coffees and plenty of opportunity to share the Gospel!

Day 2

Today on the whole was a split-brain kind of day. What I mean by that is I felt that the whole time I had multiple things going on, and multiple things I was trying to coordinate and think about. It ended up being exhausting and I fell asleep as soon as I got home.

We started at 11am with an orientation. Recently I’ve been doing cultural orientations because I guess they assume I know enough about both cultures that it’s easier for me. I’m not so sure about that. Anyways we had some interesting discussion on the spiritual culture here, and it was very helpful for the Americans that Gesi and Anila were available to shed insight onto the Albanian side of things. At the end of the orientation we were already running late, and we ended up having to sign a volunteer contract with Instituti Jeta e Re. This is a new thing they’re having to do this year because of changes to the law, in order to protect the organization and make sure everything is above-board. It was a challenge to read through the contract because it was Albanian, and to ensure we’re putting the right names and numbers in the proper places.

After orientation, the girls had to go with Bela because she had already scheduled multiple coffees. The guys were not nearly as organized - we’ve been having trouble finding time to meet with guys, because of course they work until 5 or 6pm and Albanians don’t plan coffees more than a day in advance. So I spent all of lunch trying both to have conversation with my friends and also to call a bunch of Albanians to see if any wanted to have coffee.

Adi has been an extremely valuable resource for us. He took the whole week off of work to help us, and he had scheduled a meeting with all his Army buddies to meet with Chris Hyland. Adi is part of an organization of Christian Soldiers, so they like to organize events like this whenever an American with a military past comes over. They organized one back in March when we had a retired 2 star Air-Force General join us for a week. Unfortunately this time, they couldn’t coordinate everyone’s schedules and it ended up being cancelled.

I managed to get one coffee scheduled with a guy who has come to one of our seminars before. His name is Resul. I went with Mark and Brian to Mon Cheri, and we sat outside because it was such a nice day. Mark and Resul hit it off right away because they are both Soccer fans. They were talking a lot about A.C. Milan and Ricardo Kaká. After a while they moved into a spiritual conversation and we had the chance to walk Resul through the Romans Road. Resul would call himself a believer, and he goes to the local Catholic church occasionally. We’re still working on him to try to help him understand the need for the Gospel. By the end of the coffee he was saying that a lot of things were making more sense. He and Mark connected on facebook to continue the conversation.

After that coffee we went to the office for a prayer meeting. Bela organized the meeting, we invited our partners as well to pray for the week. It was a great time worshiping both in English and Albanian. We divided into small groups and prayed both for personal prayer requests as well as general things for the week. As I’ve been studying more recently, I’ve come to believe that this is one of the most important things we could do for the success of the project. Let’s keep praying daily that God would bring His holy spirit down and open the eyes and ears of people’s hearts to hear His word this week.

Once we finished the prayer meeting we went for dinner at “1 May”, which is an outdoor restaurant with live music. It’s one of Adi’s favorite spots because you can dance there. We invited some of our partners to come with us, and Adi led us in some traditional Albanian dancing. For a bunch of the Americans this was their first time and they really enjoyed it!

Day 3

![Seminar advertisement](/.640x/images/2017/project/Seminari i Veres 2017 - i madh.png)

Busiest day of the week so far! In the morning I was able to get a quiet coffee in at Mon Cheri, which was very nice and I think gave me enough strength for the day. At 9:30 I got to the office and started working on some administrative tasks for the weekend, as well as printing out fliers for tonight. Adi came and helped - he’s been amazing. I’m very thankful to him for taking this week off work to help out.

The group came at 10am and we had a devotional. I missed half of it, but got to sit in on the end. Will was sharing about a passage in Isaiah, I wish I could remember what it was about but I missed the first part. We had a bit of worship and then prayed to start the day. Adi had a suggestion for those who didn’t have coffee, they could go with him to the Defense Ministry’s museum and look around. Maybe even engage with some random people and invite them to the seminar.

I dealt with more administrative stuff until about 11:30, when Billy was available. Me, Billy, Lauren, Genti, Gesi, and Tori (one of the guys at our church who is on the tech team) went upstairs to learn about the new camera and equipment that Billy brought for us from America. Our goal is to record every Sotmeria seminar and put it on youtube. We got the whole room set up as it normally is and tested all the equipment, meanwhile Billy not only taught us about the camera, but also about the sound board. I think they’ve never had any real training on all this audio equipment before.

I left from there to a coffee with a friend named Elvis. He’s a senior software developer for Deloitte here in Albania. I brought Chris and Bryan along with me because they have software experience. Chris was connecting with Elvis over Chris' military past, Elvis had a lot of questions about that. It was a good conversation, and Chris invited him to come to the seminar later in the day. He did show up though I didn’t have a chance at the seminar to do more than shake his hand.

After Elvis, we had coffee with Alvi. I brought Wes along as well for this one. On the way, we all stopped and grabbed a byrek at my favorite byrek shop. Chris and Brian enjoyed it, so there’s one important Albanian food down! Maybe tomorrow we’ll take them for Suflaqe.

Alvi is a very philosophical guy. He’s an atheist and enjoys questioning everything. We had a very interesting conversation that ranged from Epistomology, through Evolutionary theory, touching on Pascal’s wager and eventually to morality and whether there is an ultimate law or an ultimate law giver. He has a very relativistic worldview, which makes these conversations interesting. His english is very good though! We did the whole conversation in English and I didn’t translate anything, he was even capturing the hard topics.

We finished up with Alvi at about 4pm, and I headed back to the office to wait for my next coffee. At 5pm I went with Mark and Brian to go meet Rivelino. Rivelino’s friend Ari was also there, and he was very interested in Mark’s testimony. Mark was able to share a lot of his story, and then Ari was asking about the moment when he believed, what happened?

Rivelino and Ari are both believers, but what Ari wanted to know was how to be sure? How do we know that this belief that we say we have, “I believe in Jesus”, is a genuine belief that was given as a gift from God? How do we know it’s not a simple mental assent like so many people have? Mark began sharing with him the Bridge illustration, which is the tool that brought him to Christ 4 years ago. I unfortunately had to head back before the conversation finished because it was time to start getting set up for the event.

I went to the seminar room along with Berti Nikolli, and we found Genti and the rest of the staff already there. Berti, Gesi and I grabbed the camera equipment and started setting it up. I trained Berti on everything I had learned this morning, and we got the camera ready to roll. After all the technical stuff was set up, I mostly hung around and dealt with little issues as they popped up.

We were expecting a lot of people, we had almost 100 say yes to the facebook invite. Praise God that in the end we had 111 total! This was our second biggest total of the year, after Mark Crawford’s talk on “succeeding in a corrupt environment”. And so many of them were new people! We collected a ton of comment cards. We’ll definitely have a lot of administrative work to do Thursday morning.

Chris was a great presenter! It seems he was taking his own advice on how to present, because the audience was engaged and listening. Only a few of them had to leave early, the vast majority stayed till the end. We had a Q&A session afterwards, and Olti asked a question that led directly to Chris sharing his testimony. So that was great, and a good spiritual lead-in to our seminar tomorrow.

Here’s his full seminar if you want to watch it on youtube:

We stuck around until 9pm meeting people, and then we went to Floga for dinner. At this point I was really tired. Ana and Alba came with us to dinner, but I sat on the other end of the table from them so didn’t interact much with them. I was hanging out mostly with Will, Wes, Claudia, Brian, Lauren, and Carrie. It was definitely a good time, and reminded me again how much I miss all these guys. I’m excited to be going back to the states on August 7.

Day 4

Two people accepted Christ today! Praise the Lord for His faithfulness! One of them was a guy named Resul, whom Mark had been meeting with these past couple days. He had come to one of our previous seminars some time ago, and that’s how we got his contact information. I maintained a relationship with him, and then Monday we set up a coffee with him and Mark. Between Monday’s coffee, Tuesday’s seminar, and today’s Gospel presentation, the Lord worked on his heart and granted him ears to hear!

We started out today with a tour of the Museum. However, instead of going to the museum I went with Fabi Ivanaj and Chris Hyland to meet a young man who has studied 3 years at the Islamic school here. His goal is to become an Islamic academic and to help people to know more about their religion. He feels that Albanians have a deep need for religious education of all forms because of the 50 years of communism during which time religion was outlawed. He has a point.

Our discussion was very friendly and not confrontational at all. We asked him about some of his theology and very quickly honed in on the major points of disagreement between Islam and Christianity. He was eager to listen to what we had to say, I think he has not had any real opportunity to learn about Christian theology. According to him, Allah does not allow anyone into paradise based on their good works but only by his mercy. However, we should do good works in order to “earn” or “win” his mercy. Chris did a great job explaining that we do good works not to earn our salvation, but because we are already saved.

It seems to me that Muslims and Christians have two very major conceptual differences about two key things, that lead to difficulty in trying to explain the Gospel. One is that Muslims typically think of justice as a scale. My bad deeds are on one side, and my good deeds are on the other side, if the good weighs more than the bad then Allah will be merciful on me. However we can’t know how much any particular deed weighs, because it also depends on the sincerity of your heart. The Christian analogy is more like a glass of pure water. When someone puts just a drop of ink into the glass (symbolizing sin), that is enough to stain the whole glass. Adding more water cannot help, we need to extract the ink. Only Jesus can do that.

The second conceptual problem is that Muslims tend to believe the power of Allah is unbounded even by logical contradictions with his own character. This is in relation to his justice. If God wants to forgive someone of his sin, he simply says so and it’s forgiven. The Christian theology requires a sacrifice, because God cannot simply say “it is forgiven” and still have justice. Hebrews 9:22 says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” The concept of forgiveness without someone paying the fine is a logical contradiction like creating a square circle, or “can God make a rock so big even He can’t lift it”. If you ask a Muslim, they likely would say yes, God can make a circle that is square. A Christian would say no, God cannot do that, because it is a logical contradiction. A “square circle” does not describe an actual thing that can exist, it’s just a mashup of two words.

After the conversation we exchanged facebook information with him, and then Fabi Chris and I went to lunch. I was able to get a short break in at home after lunch, but I had to take care of some other housework before my next meeting at 4pm.

Chris and I went to meet Zamir and his friend Mauran to talk about their business. Zamir is one of our volunteers at Sotmeria, and has been working on a phone app business on the side. They’ll be targeting the clothing market here in Albania, which is about a $300 million/year market. Chris was encouraging them to be realistic about their projections for their market share, their monetization model, and also the risks involved before they go present to investors. He also counseled them to take additional steps to lock up the rights to the technology they’re using. I think they found it very valuable. I was hoping Mauran would come to the seminar but I didn’t see him there.

I left that meeting a bit early to go help set up. When I got there I noticed that the girls were all wearing the t-shirts that we made for this year’s trip! I didn’t get the memo, but hey the T-Shirts turned out great.

photo by Lauren Dean
photo by Lauren Dean

Before the meeting started, Wes gathered a bunch of us in the corner of the room to pray for the people we would be coming. I’m glad he did that, I think that prayer is really important. So much so that I’ll be giving a lesson on prayer on Sunday at our weekend retreat. It’s important not just to know that prayer has power, but then to put that into practice as well.

And boy does prayer have power! The seminar was fantastic. Mark did a really great job connecting the audience to his story, and to his Gospel presentation. He shared the bridge illustration, which is not a tool that CRU normally uses so I think it shed light on the Gospel from a different angle for some of these guys. Resul was at my table, and he was so moved from the message and the discussion questions that he went up on stage to have Mark pray for him. I’m glad to be able to welcome Resul as a brother in Christ! We saw on the comment cards that one girl as well had indicated a decision for Christ. I don’t know her but tomorrow we’ll be following up with all our comment cards, so I’ll make sure one of the girls gets coffee with her.

photo by Lauren Dean

The seminar finished by 8:30, but we didn’t get out of the upper room until 9:30. Albanians love to talk with Americans and it can be hard to close up the room and get people to leave. We finally got out the door and moved around the corner to a local restaurant. We asked them to move things around in the upper outdoor seating in order to make us a table. They were happy to oblige but it took some time. We sat down around 10:15 and started ordering, but the food took a long time to get to us, and we were all tired and confused and some of the orders got mixed up. Some people got their food right at 11pm, others didn’t get their food until closer to midnight. I guess the seafood took a lot longer. So it was an adventure, but if this is the worst thing we suffer for the sake of the Gospel then that’s no problem in my book.

Day 5

Man, today was another great day. In the morning we all gathered together to divide out the comment cards from the previous two nights, and try to set up coffee appointments. As I’m walking through the names and dividing them out to people, I realized just how much work God has done already this week. And we’ve still got the weekend retreat coming!

Everyone was able to set up at least one coffee for today. I set up a 1pm with Ergys, Mark, and Brian. Before we went to that coffee we got lunch in the “Student City”, the area of Tirana that has dorms for the University of Tirana. We ate at a student cafeteria, because I wanted them to have the experience of a normal bachelor life here in Tirana. They enjoyed it, and the food as always was super cheap! We got a full lunch for about $2.50 a person.

We met up with Ergys and, after some initial conversation about his favorite sports team Inter Milan, we started asking about his spiritual life. Ergys has been coming to my church as well as my small group, but has not taken a whole lot of steps of faith. He wants to read the Bible more and be more involved in ministry. Brian drew out for him the wheel illustration from Equipped Disciple 1. The illustration shows the Christian life as a wheel, with Christ in the center and 4 spokes holding up the wheel. The 4 spokes are Prayer, Bible Reading, Community, and Witnessing. If you don’t balance your growth in all 4, then the wheel ends up lopsided and doesn’t function very well. I think this illustration was impactful for Ergys, and I expect to see him at the retreat.

After Ergys, I had coffee with Rivelino again at 3pm. Wes and Gedis joined us, and Rivelino brought his friend Ardit. We mostly focused on talking to Rivelino. He’s a guy who has a great heart for the Lord. He wants to be sanctified, he wants to be involved in ministry. There’s some difficulty because he lives outside Tirana and doesn’t have a driver’s license, so his friends have to take him to and from Tirana. He’s currently finishing up his master’s degree in Law here, he’s hoping to get another government job like the one he lost when the government coalition broke up before the recent elections.

Rivelino and Wes were talking a lot about sanctification. He knows that things like drinking lead to lust and other sins for him, but he has a problem giving those up. His main problem is that all his friends drink. He was asking Wes, “what do I do?” and wes was answering, “I think you know what you have to do, it’s just hard to actually do it.” Wes got to share his testimony of life change with Rivelino. Afterwards Wes said, “I’d love to be in community with that guy and see him grow”. I was really glad for this conversation. I’m hoping to get Rivelino in touch with one of the staff who can mentor him over the next year.

As we left Mon Cheri, Resul and Mark walked in for their 5pm coffee. Albert was with us so I said to him that he should sit down with Resul and Mark. I had printed out for Mark earlier in the day the first follow up lesson that we have for new believers, since Resul accepted Christ yesterday. It’s a bit of Equipped Disciple 1 focusing on assurance of Salvation. In the past, Albert and I have given this lesson to another guy named Egli, so Albert was prepared. I was glad to hear later that Mark let Albert do most of the talking! This is a good growth step for Albert.

I did mostly administrative work until 8:15, when we left for our “guy’s dinner” at Zgara Korçare. That’s my favorite restaurant in town, because you can just order a ton of meatballs, sausages, and all the good stuff that goes with that. For albanians, it’s normal to also order beer there, but the team had decided not to order beer. Fortunately more than one Albanian ordered beer so that noone felt uncomfortable. We had all the guys on the American team, plus me, Gesi, and Genti from Albanian staff. From our partners we invited Adi and Albert. We also invited Resul, Endrit, Eriol, and a new guy whose name I never got. He had been in coffee with Mark and Gesi, and they just decided to continue the conversation over dinner. Seems to me like it went well. I definitely enjoyed the dinner, it was a lot of fun hanging out & mixing with the Albanian and American guys. Before we left we took a picture together, but the waiter really didn’t do a good job with it. It’s blurry and out of focus, but it’s still a good memory of that night.

After dinner, I was again so tired that I went right to sleep. Of course it didn’t help that dinner didn’t finish till 11pm!

Day 6

Today we mostly did prep for the retreat. I got to the office early to finish uploading the youtube video of our first seminar. I had set my computer to process it last night, my laptop doesn’t have a great processor. Afterwards I went for my normal morning coffee at Mon Cheri, and met up with the group at 10am at the office.

This morning we got a chance to gather together with the Tirana high school team and share stories of what’s going on in our ministries. Adi got up and shared about the conversations he has been having, and how much of a blessing it’s been for him to be part of the ministry. I was glad to hear from Matt talking about his friend whom he and Billy met a couple years ago. This kid was having a rough time but was willing to open up to Matt & Billy about it. Even though the kid didn’t accept Christ, Matt and Billy feel that they’re having a great impact with him and helping him through a tough situation.

At 11am we went over to Cioccolatini, the italian chocolate restaurant for lunch and a team meeting about the weekend. I had a waffle with chocolate and strawberries for lunch, and for dessert I ordered a cup full of melted chocolate. Meanwhile we discussed the schedule and responsibilities for the retreat. It was a necessary meeting, and I’m glad we got to go there to Cioccolatini. That needs to become a yearly tradition.

I had a coffee with Elvis' brother Orges, together with Brian. Orges also invited his other brother Endri. Endri is an agnostic and a lieutenant in the army. He and Orges are both studying for their masters' degree with the intention of opening a financial consulting business here in Tirana. We kind of divided up a bit for this conversation - Brian was talking to Endri and I was talking to Orges. In the beginning we were all speaking english, but halfway through the conversation I switched to Albanian and Endri looked at me with a shocked expression. So that was fun :)

Orges and I discussed worldview. I asked him the four worldview questions - what does he think about Origin, Meaning, Morality, and Destiny. He thinks there is a God as well as an ultimate morality, but doesn’t think there’s such a thing as heaven or hell. We also talked a bit about how to verify your worldview, that is, does your worldview agree with observations you make about the world? I suggested that one way to inspect his worldview was by comparing it against history. I shared that for me, my worldview is built on the historical fact that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead 2000 years ago. This impacts my understanding of Origin, Meaning, Morality, and Destiny. I suggested that he begin searching and comparing his worldview against how the world actually is. He took that suggestion well. Next time I see him, I’ll give him a copy of “More than a Carpenter” or “The Case for Christ”.

I had to get back to the office by about 2:30 to start getting ready for the retreat. I met up with half the team there who were also getting ready. We figured out what stuff we needed to print out befre we went, and I ran over to student city to print a good 250 pages of handouts and other materials. With that, and some other phone calls and administrative work, we were ready to go to the retreat at 5:30.

The bus left from Hotel Sokrat at about 5:45, with most of the people on board. Adi did a great job coordinating with everyone, and as we went to the other side of Tirana we stopped 2 or 3 times to pick people up. As we started up the mountain after the last stop, the side door wasn’t closing. We tried a couple things to get it to close but it didn’t work, so we just left it open. The breeze was actually kind of nice. I made a joke that we’re going to get to the top and find that not only was that door open, but also the cargo door was open and all our baggage was gone. No sooner had I said that, then Wes looked out the window and saw that in fact the baggage door had swung open! We yelled at the driver to pull over and we fixed the door. Fortunately noone lost their bags on the side of the road.

photo by Lauren Dean

We arrived at the hotel at 6:45, unloaded and got our rooms. Several of us went to go hang out by the balcony and enjoy the beautiful view. From where we are on the side of the hill, we can see all the way to the sea. It’s a great view of Tirana and a wonderful place for our retreat.

We had our intro session at 7:30, which started off wtih worship and then ended with Genti explaining the rules and schedule of the retreat. I was assigned to translate for the Americans through the transmitter/receiver system we have. This was the first time I had that kind of power and responsibility, and I’m sorry to say I abused it a little. At one point I missed the joke that Genti was saying so I just said one of my own. The important thing was to keep up appearances that I’m actually doing my job, so I had to make sure that the Americans laughed on a short delay after Genti’s jokes.

After the intro session was dinner, and then game night. I brought Dominoes, so I taught a few Albanians how to play 42. A couple of them picked it up quick, but Landa didn’t like it so she left early. A while later Will came by and joined in, but he was very tired and we were playing pretty terribly. I was tired too, so around 11:15 I said goodnight and went up to the room. Got to be fresh for tomorrow, and especially for my talk on Sunday.

Day 7

I woke up today about 7:30 am, took a shower and headed down to the veranda for a bit of bible reading. Genti had encouraged us all to pull out our bibles in the morning and spend some time in the word. I was reading for a while before Zamir and Resul both showed up. I engaged them a bit in conversation about the passage I happened to be reading, Romans 8. There’s a lot of theological meat in there that they haven’t had an opportunity to be exposed to yet. Zamir just finished the Gospels and will start on Acts, while Resul has just accepted Christ this week and is learning how to build a bible study habit.

We had breakfast inside and then went upstairs to have worship and a devotional time at 10am. I’m glad Gedis and Çeljeta could come, they’re really good worship leaders. It’s always fun singing both in Albanian and English - at least for me. I saw Chris trying to pronounce the Albanian words in the songs, he was doing good but just getting hung up on some of the unexpected ways that letters combine.

photo by Lauren Dean

Wes had an awesome devotional. He talked about Jeremiah 17:5-6 and asked where our confidence is? Are we confident in our flesh or in God? He told us part of his testimony, and how satisfaction only comes when you follow the Spirit.

We had a coffee break down on the veranda. Unfortunately I was busy getting things done and only got a chance to fill a coffee cup, not drink it. At 11 we headed back upstairs for Claudia’s talk. Claudia really blew us away with her testimony. If you get a chance you should go see her at ReGen, because it’s really powerful. We need more people being open and authentic about all of that stuff here in Albania. One of the biggest problems in the Albanian church is rumors spread very quickly, so people don’t want to open up to other Albanians about their sin struggles. It’s a challenge I’ve had as well over these two years, and something where Watermark can really help change the culture. Way to go Claudia.

We went with our groups out to the veranda for discussion time. My group included Mira Ymerali, Andrea Shtjefni, Lauren Dean, Ervin, Kristi, Greta, Elton, Matilda and Izabela. I think we had a very good discussion group. Mira is a very capable leader. The whole group got involved in the discussion, even Lauren despite it being mostly in Albanian.

We ate lunch with our group as well. The guys mostly talked politics, but we did find out about Ervin and Kristi’s youtube channel. I may ask Ervin later to help us out with video editing for Sotmeria. I didn’t really follow along with the Albanian politics, I was kinda lost. It doesn’t help that Andrea speaks with a northern accent.

Anyways, after lunch we got ready for the sports time. There were 4 stations: Pictionary, Jenga, Water Bottle Frisbee Bowling, and Water Balloon Toss. Each of the 6 teams got to do each station once, for 30 minutes a piece. At each station we played 3-4 rounds and won 5 points for each round win. Our team dominated at pictionary, and took 2 out of 3 at water bottle frisbee bowling. We struggled a bit at Jenga, winning only 1 out of 3. The final was water balloon toss. That’s a tough one, and there was a lot of arguing about exactly how far backwards one needs to step each time. In the end we only took 1 out of 3 on that as well. It was enough though for 2nd place, thanks to our dominant Pictionary performance.

photo by Lauren Dean
photo by Lauren Dean
photo by Lauren Dean

We had free time after that and I headed to the pool. It was really nice, but super cold. I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold, so I spent only 15 minutes at a time actually in the water. The rest of the time I hung out with the guys on the side of the pool chatting. After swimming for about an hour, I went upstairs and relaxed a bit until about 5:30. I went down from the room with my stuff and started practicing for my seminar tomorrow. I didn’t get a chance to finish, but got more than half of it practiced before we started at 6:30.

The evening session went straight into Amber’s talk. She gave a great seminar on integrating work and witness. She talked about her own struggles as a manager, and how once she really started to follow Christ she started to look different from her co-workers. And they began asking her about it. She gave us a lot of really good practical advice about how you can have an impact at work. The discussion time was really good too, but we only had a short time for it. One of the challenges that they have here in Albania is that people are often looking for an opportunity to take advantage of you, even your co-workers. So one question was how do we show love without allowing them to take advantage of us? It’s a difficult problem indeed.

After discussion time we headed down to the veranda to catch the sunset. It was really beautiful and everyone was taking pictures. We got a nice team photo overlooking some hills with sunset colors in the background. In the meantime the hotel staff was preparing the large room for dinner.

photo by Lauren Dean

We went back upstairs at 8:30 and had an Albanian style festive dinner, the kind they usually have at weddings. The important elements of a festive dinner are some form of food, and a lot of dancing. Adi did a great job (as always) being our DJ. He’s started to incorporate more latin music as well, since we’ve made friends with a latin dance instructor. It was a great time introducing the new people on the American team to Albanian traditional dances. Adi and a couple of the other guys even did one of the very difficult traditional dances, which was a lot of fun to watch. I got it on video and hope to put it on youtube later.

We danced and ate until midnight when we had to close the room. Afterwards we headed back down to the veranda for games. The Albanians were really intrigued by Jenga when we played this afternoon, so there were a couple groups gathered around the two Jengas that we borrowed from the high school ministry. One team got a stack 30 layers tall before it crashed. That’s got to be an Albanian record. I mostly hung out and watched, and turned in around 1am. I spent another 30 minutes in my room prepping for my seminar tomorrow, and then wrote up this journal entry. Now it’s time to sleep so I’m as fresh as possible for tomorrow. Lord help me.

Day 8

Last day of the project! And what a full one. I’m really glad for the way this retreat turned out. It wasn’t perfect but there were no major failures, and Albert told me that the retreat was the best one he’s ever been on.

We started off the day with worship and a morning devotional. We split the guys and girls for the devotional, and Mark shared with us guys the “5 finger technique” of getting a grip on God’s word. The first finger is Hear the word, but you only remember 10% of what you hear. The second is Read the word but you only remember 20% of what you read. If you only have a 2 finger grip on the word, the devil will snatch it away (in this illustration the devil is played by the nefarious Wes Chick). The third finger is Study the word. You remember 50% of what you study. The 4th is Memorize the word and of course you remember 100% of what you memorize. Finally you add the thumb, which is Mediate on the word. This is how you get a strong enough grip to resist that nefarious Wes Chick. Oops, I mean the devil.

After the devotional time it was my turn. I had been preparing for this message for a while. I shared on a couple theological bases for effective prayer, i.e. why we can believe that our prayers for the salvation of others will work. The first base that I shared is that the Lord is sovereign over salvation, such that there is noone who is so far away from God that they can’t be saved. Even the ones you think totally hate the God of the bible and are going the complete opposite direction. The second base is that we can influence God’s mind through prayer. For this I turned to Exodus 32, where Moses prayed for the population and the Lord changed His mind in relation to the destruction He was going to do to His people. If these two bases are true, then we have an opportunity through prayer to ask God to change the hearts of our friends and family who are far from God. Finally I shared that the Lord had appointed Moses to be an advocate for the population in this case, because God wanted to hear from Moses. He has also chosen us to be advocates for our friends and family through prayer. He wants to hear from us, but He retains the ultimate decision. Therefore we have an opportunity, but not the weight of responsibility, for the salvation of others. I also wove throughout my personal history with my aunt and cousins, who are atheist.

A lot of my talk is based on two sermons by David Platt and Matt Chandler, as well as my personal experience. You can listen to them here:

This was my first time giving anything like a sermon, so I hope I gave some good stuff for people to chew on! The difficulty was we have a mix of brand new believers and people who are much more mature in their faith.

You can listen to my message, but it’s in Albanian.

After my message, we went out and took a group photo and had coffee service. We were running late, so we also asked people to clean out their rooms and take their bags downstairs so the hotel could start prepping for their next guests. After all that happened, we had our final session. Genti shared about the vision of Sotmeria and challenged all of them to be part of some kind of ministry next year, either with us or with their churches. Then we invited the Americans up and thanked them for their participation.

We had a couple hours left before the bus came at 4:30, so I went down to the pool and tried to take a nap in the sun. Unfortunately it was just too hot and I couldn’t, so I swam a bit and then got out and helped Genti finalize things at the hotel. 4:30 came pretty quickly and we hopped in the bus to go back. Most of us got out at Hotel Sokrat, so we said goodbyes and started putting stuff away in the hotel and getting ready for dinner. At 6:30 we left for Natyra e Qetë, a great restaurant that looks like a castle, together with all the other American teams and staff. In total we were about 60 people. We ordered a lot of traditional albanian food, as well as two whole lambs roasted on a spit. That was seriously the best meat I’ve had in Albania. We gave the head of the lamb to Will, because the Albanian tradition is that they give the head to the head of the family, or to a guest that they want to honor. Too bad Will didn’t eat any of it, Genti tells me the brains are actually pretty good.

photo by Lauren Dean

Will stood up and thanked us for another great year, another successful project. It’s amazing to see the way God has grown this ministry and this partnership. Pal got up as well and said something I think was very wise. He said that God could have done all this without us. But He allows us to have a part in what He’s doing, and that’s a wonderful privilege. I’m glad to have both of those guys as good friends.

After dinner, the Korça team had to leave directly in order to arrive there before 2am. The rest of us headed back to the hotel. Lauren and I had an errand to run to grab one of Jamie’s bags that Lauren had left at her place. Pal and Ueda helped us with that, then we took it over to my house and I packed up some winter clothes for Jamie to take back to dallas for me. We got back to the hotel in time to have one final coffee with Chris, Wes, Mark, Enddrit, and Enerik. I stayed up until 3am with the group, until they got on the bus to go to the airport. I’ll see them again in a month, but for Lauren it was a bit hard because she’s just beginning her journey, and now has to say goodbye to her friends until next year. It’s a really hard thing to do, to separate from your best friends and come over to another place, and to have to reinvest in making new friends. Please pray for her especially these first few months.

And with that, the project is over! The last big thing I had as a staff member of Sotmëria is done. I’ll still be involved, but please remember to switch your monthly gift to someone else! Now it’s time for vacation.

Day 9

I woke up at about 11am and pretty much did nothing all day. I went out for lunch, and did about half my laundry. Just thought y’all should know. I was dead tired.