Pre-trip team photo

Day 1

We traveled overnight Friday, finally arriving Saturday night. After checking into the hotel I was beat. I went to sleep right away and managed to sleep 9 hours straight. It was good though to see Berti, Pal, Ueda, and Aldo, who all picked us up at the airport.

Berti invited me to his bible study group before church. I met up with them at 8am at Mon Cheri. Berti, Xhulio, Zamir, Visi, and Landi have been meeting regularly to study the Bible. They were talking about Psalm 58 this week, and we discussed the contrast between “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;” (v10) and Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies and proy for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). I’m glad to see those guys getting together to dig into God’s word!

From there we went to Church at 10 am. I spent some time saying hi to as many people as I could find! It’s great to be back, it almost feels like coming home. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sing worship songs in Albanian, though I have once or twice played some Albanian worship off of YouTube back in Dallas.

The sermon was on Acts 15. Gusti Prenga did a great job talking about the freedom we have in the Gospel. His opening hook was a play on the name of Lionel Messi, who had just lost in the knockout stage of the World Cup. He said, “A eshte Mesia mjaft?” - Is the Messiah enough? For Argentina it seems the answer was No.

But for us the answer is Yes. The context is that some former pharisees were arguing that believers need to be circumcised, and so to adopt the entire law of Moses. But in verse 28 the leadership decided “not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…”. The law is a burden. But we have freedom from that burden. Christ took the burden that we cannot bear.

One point was particularly insightful. He said that of all the groups in the world, we Christians have to be the most flexible with cultural differences. Too often we confuse our culture, our way of doing things, with the Gospel. We have to be careful to not place an undue burden on others.

Lunch after church was pretty good too, I got to sit next to Egli. He’s about to move to Portugal for a job. I’m hoping to get some coffee with him this week or next to help him prepare spiritually. He just got baptized with the Church on June 10! I’m glad for him.

We went out with Gesi Qiriazi afterwards to watch the World Cup. We had a great time just chilling at this new coffee bar. He said that the owner wants to plant a church as well, and use the coffee bar to support his ministry. I’ll happily keep buying drinks there, it’s a great location with a beautiful outdoor section. They also have Oreo shakes. I didn’t get one but I wanted to. Instead I had my first Fanta Exotic of the trip.

We had dinner at Era, just the American team. We discussed the schedule for the week just a little bit, but mostly we just hung out with Lauren, whom we haven’t seen in a good while! It was definitely fun catching up with her. We’ve been taking it easy this first day, which I think was the right decision. Some of us had to work extra before we left just to take this time off to come here. Tomorrow we’ll hit the ground running. Mark already has messaged a couple guys for coffee, and it seems that Bela & the Sotmeria girls are working on setting up coffees for the ladies.

Day 2

I started the second day at Mon Cheri again, where I got some good quality time with the Lord. I’m glad to have that place, which feels a bit like home. I met Arti Cana up there for a coffee before we got started for the day. He’s on staff with the student ministry, which is going well but is a little slow this year. We talked about how that might be a good time then to devote to prayer, that God might reveal some things to them they need to change. He agreed, and said that they are definitely praying.

At 10am we all arrived at the office for the orientation. Aldo has gotten really good at giving the cultural orientation. I didn’t feel like anything was left out, and the rookies were quite satisfied. There were few questions. We then split up into teams, and the young professionals team went over the schedule for the week. We’re trying to get in as many coffees as possible before the first seminar, so that we can be ready for those who show up at the seminars.

After lunch Mark and I went to Cafe D’Anvers near the hotel to wait for our first coffee. Unfortunately he was a no-show, so we went back to take a nap. Our second coffee was also at D’Anvers, we met Albi and Joana right outside the hotel and made the quick walk to coffee. Mark and Amber had met with them last year, and Mark wanted to follow up to see how they were doing.

We talked mostly about community and service, while also watching the World Cup on the screen behind us. They have been in a community group led by Pal, but they are the only married couple in the group, which has been a challenge. They thought about getting involved with a small group with the other married couples but it never worked out. They both have difficult work schedules which makes it tough to connect with the groups. One thing they agreed on is that they want to serve more at the church. Joana talked about the joy she felt the last time she went to serve with the kids in Hamalaj, a place where Cornerstone has planted a church and helps support the believers there. She’d like more of that joy, so we discussed her maybe joining with the children’s ministry.

After finishing coffee, we met up with the others at the office for the prayer meeting. Lauren and Alba led the meeting, giving us a lot of topics to pray about together with accompanying scriptures. We prayed that the Lord would open the hearts of the people coming to our seminars, just as He did for Lydia.

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
Acts 16:14

I’m glad that we decided to do the prayer night again this year. I think it’s one of the most important things we do, and I’m glad that Bela had the idea to start up a prayer group for the ministry a year ago. It’s been very effective.

We all went to dinner, the Albanians together with the Dallas and Florida teams, at Floga restaurant. I ended up on the quiet end of the table, but enjoyed talking with Dan. He’s a civil engineer who now directs operations for a Florida county. His kids are all grown and mostly moved out of the house. His wife is currently working on a PhD, but when she’s done with that they’re open to the possibility of moving somewhere overseas to do missions work. I asked what it would take to get him to move to Albania. He said in essence it would need to be a God thing, so I told him I’d be praying for that.

Day 3

We got started a bit later today. It gave me a bit of extra quiet time in the morning, at a nearby cafe. It was good to get that prayer time in for the seminar tonight. At 11am we met at the office and shared about what’s been encouraging for us so far. I shared about Zamir, who was with us in the prayer meeting last night. It’s encouraging to me how much he’s grown in his faith since he came to Christ a year and a half ago.

After the morning meeting, once we were all on the same page regarding everyone’s schedules, we all went out to lunch down in the Bllok. We sat down at a place with outdoor seating, and we noticed a guy with a Dallas t-shirt! Me, Will, and Lauren went up to talk to him. He didn’t speak any English, and had never been to America, he just liked the shirt. His name is Geni, and he’s a delivery driver. We told him about our ministry & the theme of Mark’s talk tonight, which is “Leaving a Legacy”. He said that his legacy was centered around his family. He wants his kids to be able to get better jobs than he has. I said that’s a good legacy to leave. He unfortunately couldn’t come to the seminar tonight but I got his phone number. I’ll try to follow up in the next couple weeks.

We moved on from lunch to the spot where Mark and I were to meet Dorian, while the ladies decided to go shopping for souvenirs and jewelry. Mark picked up a souvenir soccer ball for his son Titus outside of Toptani center, which is the brand new shopping mall in downtown Tirana. We wandered around a bit, and connected with Dorian at 2pm.

When we met Dorian last year, he was a student at a Madrasa studying Islamic sciences. Since then he’s apparently been out of the country working in Luxembourg and France. It seems he’s finished his undergrad work but is not going to pursue a masters. We caught him while he’s in town a couple days before returning to his hometown of Korce.

Our discussion quickly turned to spiritual things, thanks to Mark. Mark was trying to show from the old testament how we are separated from God due to sin, how our good deeds are worthless for trying to reconcile us back to God, and how Jesus needed to suffer the punishment for us. When we got to Isaiah 53, it was surprising to us how quickly Dorian picked up on the fact that the “He” in the prophecy refers to Jesus. He seemed to be between agreement and disagreement, so I tried a different tack.

I began to show him how in the old testament, the punishment for sin was death. I asked him if he believed that Jesus actually died. He said that in Islam they have a different tradition, that it wasn’t Jesus but really Judas who died on the cross. He wasn’t sure that it’s correct that the punishment for our sins has to be death. He told us that he’d have to talk about it with others who are more wise than he is. I’ve seen this before with Muslims, they tend to take a higher view of authority than American Christians and they’ll want to talk things over with someone that they see as an authority rather than come to a decision on their own about some point of theology. Please pray for Dorian as he processes all of this.

After our great conversation with Dorian, Mark went back to the hotel to get ready for his talk while I went to meet Egli. Egli is getting ready to move to Portugal for a great work opportunity and I want to help make sure he’s spiritually prepared. We just kind of hung out for a while and talked a little about spiritual health. We’ll have to have a few more conversations on that topic. However he did say that he wanted to share the Gospel with his friend, whom he also invited to the seminar tonight. I helped him download the GodTools app so that he could have an easy way to share the 4 spiritual laws, rather than struggling through trying to remember himself.

The seminar was great! I got to see a whole bunch of people that I hadn’t seen in a while, many of the Sotmeria regulars like Ira, Ina, Andrea, Rexhep & others. We had a quick icebreaker game and then Mark went into his seminar. He spoke on “Leaving a legacy”, and compared a personal legacy to a fruit tree. I could see the biblical parallels that he chose to leave implicit. He talked about having a personal mission statement, which is a great idea that I don’t think many of the Albanians have considered. I hope that the idea of a personal mission statement will prompt many of them to talk to Sotmeria staff or volunteers, to help them develop their mission statement.

Mark also shared about SMART goals, ones that are Specific Measurable Attainable x x. I think this information was very helpful to those Albanians who are motivated already to improve their skills and their careers. I wonder how it landed with the ones who aren’t quite as motivated.

After the seminar I heard from Egli that he had in fact shared the 4 spiritual laws with his friend Valentin! I was so excited to hear that. Even though his friend did not accept Christ, Egli had been faithful to share his faith. That’s the most important thing, we leave the results up to God. Egli is already a multiplying disciple. I will keep praying for him, that his faith would continue to grow both here and in Portugal.

We went to dinner at a burger restaurant and had good conversation with Berti and Egli. It was a little difficult for me being the only translator, but fortunately while I was busy Berti and Claudia managed to communicate some via Google Translate. We made some good jokes about that, and other misunderstandings that Berti has had with Lauren over the past year. It was a fun end to the evening, and we’re ready to continue working hard tomorrow.

Day 4

This morning I was reading Acts 4. I’ve been reading through the early chapters of Acts on this trip, because the same God who worked through the Apostles in the book of Acts also works in us. Jesus promised, “Greater works than these you will do”. I have been praying this week that, just like the early church, we would be continually in awe of what God is doing here. And every year since we first came in 2013 I have not been disappointed. God never fails to move, He has been working miracles in people’s hearts every summer.

We came together at 10am to pray over all the names that we collected after the seminar last night. We shared some stories of how we’ve seen God moving so far, and then divided into groups to pray for the Gospel presentation tonight, and for all the meetings we would have. And then, right as Mark was praying over the seminar tonight, an earthquake hit! Earthquakes are unusual but not unheard of here. In my 2 years living in Albania I experienced 3 or 4 that were strong enough to be easily felt. This one was definitely one of those. The building shook a bit but noone was in any danger. Mark then said that it reminded him of the verse in Acts 4,

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
Acts 4:31

I’m thankful for a God who always leaves us with a sense of awe.

After the prayer time we divided up the contact information of the new people who came to last night’s seminar and attempted to contact them. Unfortunately we couldn’t call them due to the earthquake causing issues with the phone networks, so I left a few text messages and I’ll call them again tomorrow. Mark and I then left to grab some crepes on the way to our first meeting.

We met with a guy named Endri H. He owns a Tae-Kwon-Do gym and is also trying to start up a rec center with all sorts of gymnastics, rock climbing, etc. He hopes to use that as some kind of after school program, and as an opportunity to share his faith. One area that he’s having difficulty is in balancing sharing his faith with running his business. He finds that sharing his faith can drive away paying customers. We encouraged him however that we think his heart is in the right place.

He asked Mark for advice in marketing, because Mark works in negotiating sponsorship deals for sports teams and has experience in this field. It’s difficult to give concrete advice for the Albanian context, especially because there’s so much corruption and protectionism around these various industries that it’s hard for an outsider to really break in. At the same time, as we were talking it became pretty clear that he’s not really running his business as a separate entity. Maybe some basic finance courses would be of greater help to him. I offered to connect him to Ilir, who leads Sotmeria’s ministry to business leaders. Maybe this would be a good chance for him to learn from other business leaders, to improve his business, and also to join with someone else who has a vision for transforming Albania through the Gospel.

After that I met up with Claudia and Enddrit. Enddrit is a believer who is occasionally involved with Sotmeria, but is not one of the key volunteers. He is going through a transition in his work situation and exploring the idea of using his degree, which is in the field of oil & gas exploration. Unfortunately to really make use of this, he has to leave Albania to go work for a foreign company in one of the harsh areas of the world where the majority of oil rigs are. This is a challenge because Enddrit doesn’t speak any other languages. Claudia challenged him to follow Mark’s advice from the seminar last night, and to set some SMART goals for learning either English or Spanish. She will also send him some links to oil and gas companies that he can apply to.

After this I needed a break, because I had been translating for almost 4 hours. I’ve been praying that God would use me in whatever way, but also to remind me that it’s not about me - “as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk” (Acts 3:?). The Lord has been reminding me of that by putting me in the translator role for most of these coffees. The Albanians are wanting to talk to Mark, Claudia, or other Americans, not so much to me, which is OK. I don’t need to be the center of their attention in order to serve the way God has resourced me. I mentioned to Mark that I think God has preserved my language skills through this year in America for precisely this reason, to be a good and needed translator on this trip.

After resting a bit I met up with Mark and Enddrit. We talked soccer for a while and generally just hung out until the seminar. The seminar was packed tonight, there were around 100 people who came which is unusual for a spiritual seminar. Chris did a great job of weaving in multiple stories into his Gospel presentation. He started from a position of humility, talking about his own struggles with pornography and his marital difficulties early on, before he and his wife really committed themselves to Christ. He used that as a way to emphasize the necessity of the decision, that you need to make that decision to follow Christ. This is the 4th spiritual law in the 4 spiritual laws booklet - that you have to make a personal decision.

The one worry I have is that Albanians generally are not willing to talk about their weaknesses. They feel pre-judged by others when they share something personal like what Chris shared. But I also hope that through this some will be prompted to examine themselves and see that there is a need for something, a need to share about their weaknesses or to accept that they are sinners in need of grace.

I talked to one non-believer afterwards about the message, and mentioned this aspect of Chris’ talk. Then I asked him if he had any weaknesses for which he might need God’s grace. He said he didn’t have any, essentially that all his weaknesses were normal and not particularly bad. I told him that I used to feel the same way, until I found a point of reference outside myself. It’s only when you find that external point of reference that you are able to see where you yourself don’t measure up. Chris has a meeting with this guy tomorrow, I hope he will follow up on this line of questioning.

After the meeting many people had already scheduled coffees, so just a few of us ended up going to Zgara Korcare. It was me, Lauren, Fabi, Mark, Chris, Andrew, and Lori. We talked a lot about the various aspects of membership at Watermark, about service and community in the Church, and even about how elders are selected at Watermark and at Generations church (where Chris, Andrew, and Lori are members). Andrew also told us about his desire to move with his wife to the mission field somewhere overseas. It seems they are strongly considering Albania!

After dinner I was glad for the long walk home to help the food settle. We got to the hotel around 11:30 and hit the sack pretty quickly after that.

Day 5

Today was driven entirely by coffees. The women had an event planned for the evening, while for the guys we were just going to make coffee appointments and see where the Lord leads us. We started as usual with a time of worship and encouragement. Natalie, from the Florida team, shared about her experience with a girl who came to christ yesterday! It was great to hear how she and the other members of the Florida team were able to push out of their comfort zones to share the Gospel. Afterwards we had a short prayer time before lunch.

I had called and messaged all of my contacts, but almost all of them were either out of the country, home visiting family, or just generally unavailable. Fortunately I still have three weeks here to continue following up after the project is finished. But for now that left me with nothing to do. I had a 1:30pm and 4pm meeting alongside Mark, but for now I went out for lunch with Dan and Jon from the Florida team.

Dan and I have been chatting about what it looks like to go on full time mission. He and his wife have discussed the idea before, now that their kids are all out of the house. His wife is finishing her lifelong goal of getting a PhD, but after that is finished they will be asking what’s next. Whether Albania is part of God’s plan for them. I told him I’d put him in touch with CRU City ministries that would be able to help him with next steps, should he and his wife make the decision to make this happen. I’ll be praying for them.

From lunch I led Dan and Jon to their next meeting in the center of the city with an English teacher. Since I wasn’t needed as translator and would have to leave early anyways for my 1:30 meeting, I excused myself from their meeting and went souvenir shopping. I love the area around the Stephen Center and Pazari i Ri, but I’m a little disappointed at how the goods at the street vendors around Pazari i Ri have gone downhill. The majority of what they were selling is really high-margin stuff like tobacco. The low-margin guys just can’t afford the stall prices now that the government has renovated the area.

My 1:30 was a really encouraging meeting! Mark and I met with an Albanian from another church who runs their youth ministry. He told us a lot about his story, and how much he resonated with Chris’ testimony. He was very open about his past struggles with loneliness and pornography. We talked some about how to help Albanians to open up in order to find freedom from this struggle. He talked about the shame aspect of the culture and how Albanians will not open up in front of a group due to this shame. I’ve experienced this personally in my discipleship group as well. He was a fan of the one-on-one approach, and I’m starting to think that if a program like ReGen is going to be successful here it will need to be adapted to work well one-on-one.

He also wanted to talk to Mark about his new business venture as a Football (Soccer) agent. He has plans to help develop young football players here inside Albania, where in his opinion the national league is actually pretty good. There’s no reason for top talent to leave the country, and if they can be developed well and be with an agent who actually cares about them instead of just using them to make the most money, then the entire country’s football program can be improved. Mark agreed to connect him with a friend of his who is an American Football agent, so that he could get some good advice on that part of the business.

After praying with him we left for our next appointment. We had a 4pm at Mon Cheri with Valentin, Egli’s friend. Valentin was interested to hear from Mark about his most challenging moment in life. This led Mark right into sharing his testimony of how he found Christ after his ATV accident. Valentin was very touched by the story. I also got to share my story of Christ calling me through the book The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. We both shared about how the Truth of the Gospel is what drives us, and what gives us the strength to overcome our most challenging moments in life. He seemed to appreciate this, but was not ready to put his faith in Christ. I challenged him to investigate this faith for himself, since we believe that faith in Christ is reasonable and historically reliable.

Mark headed back to the hotel after this conversation to get a little rest, and I went out to meet up with Zamir and Albert. Unfortunately there had been a mix-up, as we were all supposed to go hang out with Chris from the Florida team but Fabi had invited the entire Florida team to a bible study at his church. So I ended up with coffee with just Albert and Zamir. It was great to talk to them, and I got to help them process how the project is going so far. We’ve definitely all experienced good things, but also things that need to be improved. I’m praying that good lessons will be learned, and that as well as things have gone this year so far, that we can be diligent to make them even better next year.

While we had originally planned to have a guys’ dinner at Zgara Korcare, it turned out that only Resul was able to come, and even then only for a short time. So it ended up being just me, Brian, Will, and Mark at dinner. But we had a great time discussing strategy, and evaluating the project so far. We’re definitely looking forward to the retreat tomorrow!

Day 6

Finally the day of the retreat arrived! I’m looking forward to spending some time with our good friends out at a resort in Divjaka. But before the bus left at 5:30 pm, we had some things to do.

We started out with a sightseeing tour to the castle Petrela, which is on the south side of Tirana and has a good view of all the approaches to the city. I was struck by the contrast between the city on one side of the hills, and the small villages and farms on the other side not 10 miles away. As Tirana continues to grow I’m sure that more and more of the surrounding areas will end up getting “swallowed up” by the city the same way that Dallas has grown around and absorbed various other small towns.

We had an evaluation meeting at a restaurant near the castle. We talked about good things and bad things from the project so far. Some positives included the speakers and the impact they had through their messages. Some of the Florida team members expressed how they felt blessed and convicted by how well the Albanians transition to a Gospel-centered conversation. For me a particular highlight was seeing how much Berti, Zamir, Resul, and Egli have grown in their faith.

Some areas of improvement were also mentioned. For me personally, I’d like to have seen the Albanian partners have more opportunities to share the Gospel during the project. It seemed that the young professionals, at least on the guys’ side, were in more of a support role to help us Americans to share the Gospel. I’d like to see that reversed. In truth we are here to serve and support them in any way possible, and they are the ones who are going to continue the ministry after we leave. If I come on the trip and end up just working the soundboard, handling spreadsheets & communicating coffee times and locations, but if that frees up Albanian young professionals to do missions work, for me that’s a win. We are here to make multiplying disciples. The disciples are here - we just want to help them multiply themselves.

On the whole the lunch went very well, and we returned to the main office to prepare for the retreat. I helped to gather all the sound equipment and stuff for the retreat, since I said I would be primarily responsible for the A/V equipment in order to give Berti and Zamir a break. I also took the time to translate the powerpoints for two of the talks at the retreat, in order to take that off of the staff team’s minds. I finished up with that while watching the soccer game with Mark, Gesi, and Berti at a nearby coffee shop.

At 5:30 we all got on the bus and left. It was about an hour and a half drive, and the A/C didn’t work too great so the bus was pretty hot. We were glad to arrive, but we ended up being late. We had hoped to have the intro time before dinner and allow people to watch the second soccer match, but instead we had dinner first and by the time we finished the intro session the match was over. A couple of people were actually watching the match on the phone, and it was pretty funny when they all together let out a groan as Brazil missed a chance right while Fabi was speaking!

During dinner I got a chance to sit with Genti and Erjona! I hadn’t realized that they would be at the retreat, since they’re on sabbatical this summer. I think they had planned to be here to take part but not to be super involved because of their sabbatical, but I’m still really glad to get to hang out with them. Things are going really well for them and their kids, but they told me it’s definitely a different team since I’ve been gone. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.

After the session a lot of us went out to go swim in or hang out by the pool. The hotel is the same one we were at two years ago for the Teachers’ retreat, but they’ve definitely improved it a lot since then! The pool is a new addition and it’s very nice, and the rooms have been completely renovated. I joined the Albanians at the pool and threw a frisbee for a bit, but then went to bed early. I have to get up early tomorrow to set up the room for our first session. Can’t wait to hear what Will has to say!

Day 7

I’m surprised at how fast this week flew by! It’s been a long and busy week but I never felt too tired, worn out, or out of my element. Earlier in the week Lauren H told me that I’m talking more than she had ever heard me talk, I think that’s because I am in a place I feel very comforatble. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing; I have also been praying that the Lord would stretch me and that this trip would not become routine for me. Possibly the next couple weeks will be that, since I’ll be staying the whole month through Pal’s wedding.

Today I got up early to help set up all the microphones and A/V equipment. We’re trying as much as possible to give Berti a break from all that, but he’s also a bit of a perfectionist and still wants to help out. He did definitely help us find a couple things that we were missing to get everything set up so I’m thankful for his help.

After breakfast, we started the first session with worship. Will and Fabi led us. Then we transitioned into Sally’s talk, which was about conflict resolution. She spoke a lot about how she has had opportunity to resolve conflict in her life, giving as an example a time that she was in a group project at Baylor with another girl whom she considered to be lazy. The project didn’t go super well. She ended up complaining to her professor, which contributed to the other girl not being able to graduate on time. She failed to resolve conflict well in that instance, and later had to go ask forgiveness. That reconciliation conversation was very difficult, and the other girl did not respond super well, but Sally did the best she could to own her part and ask forgiveness.

Sally also gave us an exercise to help us understand one-another’s perspectives. We paired up back to back, and each were given a sheet of paper. One paper had a drawing of an animal, and the other had a background scene with blank space for drawing the animal. Without describing the image, the first person had to tell the other how to draw the animal. It looked like a small fox. I ended up drawing some demon spawn from hell. Seriously, this looked like a Monsters Inc. character if it were made of nightmares.

The point of the exercise was to understand that each person has their own perspective, and as you communicate your words can easily be misinterpreted because the other person is making assumptions. Pausing to ask questions is very important. Our discussion group definitely appreciated that aspect. I’m glad Sally talked about this topic because it’s definitely an area of weakness among Albanians in general. Americans also suffer from this weakness; it’s pretty universal.

We had free time after lunch. I took Frisbee and Spikeball out to the beach. We played Spikeball for a little while until more Albanians came out, then I set up a field with some orange cones that I had brought. It was the first time that I ever got some Albanians to play ultimate with me! They actually enjoyed it. We were playing close to the inner part of the beach, behind which is a lagoon of shallow water. Every time the frisbee went into the water, we had to chase after it because after a few steps you start to sink into the muck below the surface! A few times we had to wait for the disc to cross to the other side.

We ended the match in a 4-4 tie because people were getting tired. I spent the rest of the time hanging by the pool. I got to talk a bit more with Genti Tupa about the future of Sotmeria. He’s worried about the re-organization that will put the professionals underneath Global Church Movements. It’s going to be his responsibility to push back on leadership of GCM if they try to make too many changes to what’s working. We’ve built a pretty good brand so far, I’d hate to lose that.

After dinner we had the second session. I didn’t know what to expect from Andrew and Jennifer. They are both 21 years old, and have been married now for a year. In the fall they’ll start at Liberty University. I was very impressed by how well they used Scripture, and by their personal testimonies. Their talk was about peace in any circumstance. How do we find peace according to the world, and how to find peace by God’s design. It was especially powerful due to their experiences in life. They’ve both gone through incredibly difficult periods. I’m sure the Albanians resonated with what they were sharing. I know I did.

We had a party after the second session. I faced a difficult choice - Albanian dancing or hanging out with the guys for the World Cup? As much as I love Albanian dancing, I knew I’d have plenty of opportunity for that at Pal’s wedding. I also just wanted to hang out as much as possible with the guys, and Genti Tupa as well. So we watched Croatia beat Russia in penalty kicks. It was an incredible match and a fun experience watching it with Albanians. At about half past 10 we came down to the party and still got plenty of dancing in. My favorite dance is “Valle e Kukesit”. It’s very fast and a lot of jumping steps.

Day two of the retreat finished, tomorrow we finish the camp with Dan Biles’ talk. I’ve been helping him prepare for it and to get translations ready. I’m excited, I think it will be very impactful.

Day 8

The final day of the retreat started nice and slow. After spending some good time in the Word this morning, I began preparing to translate Dan Biles’ presentation on Working with a Purpose. I helped him prepare and translate his powerpoint over the previous couple of days, so it seemed the natural choice for me to give Lando a break with translation. He made a photocopy of his notes for me, and over breakfast I went over them and looked up some words I didn’t know in Albanian.

The main session went very well! Dan is a very good communicator. He talked about work. Work, he said, was created by God and is part of God’s plan. It takes anywhere from 25% to 40% of our lives, and it’s a place where we need to apply the things we learn Sunday morning. He gave 8 ideas for ways to serve God at work:

  1. To further social justice in the world
  2. To be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues.
  3. To do skillful, excellent work
  4. To to create beauty
  5. To glorify God seeking to engage and influence culture to that end
  6. To work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs
  7. To do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion
  8. To make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can.

He talked about what makes a person successful as a leader. God’s leadership model is servant leadership. Dan applies that by always ensuring he’s surrounded by people who are smarter or more skilled than he is - “If I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room”. As the CEO of a county of the Florida Government, he oversees 2500 people and always tries to make sure he’s helping them to excel.

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

After his talk we closed the conference and took a big picture on the back steps, then went to lunch. At lunch I busted out the Jalapeno Peanut Brittle that I got at Buc-ees. I’ve noticed that most Albanians don’t like things that are too spicy, at least the ones that they aren’t used to. Some of them enjoyed it, but mostly they enjoyed the reactions of other people when they tried it.

To get some perspective on their tastes, I asked Mira Y. what was the grosest thing she tried in America. She was in Dallas for CLC back in the spring of 2017. She said she couldn’t stand Barbeque! The meat was too sweet. Salty and sweet don’t go together in her opinion. That’s too bad, because I happen to think that sweet glazed BBQ baby-back ribs are one of the most delicious things you can eat!

After lunch we all packed up, and the bus back to Tirana pulled out of the hotel at 2:30pm. On the bus ride back Mark shared his story with Jennifer and Andrew. It was cool to listen to his story more in-depth. It made me think of the passage about wives winning their husbands over to the Lord by their conduct. Based on his story, it seems that Amber really personified this verse in his life.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 1 Peter 3:1-2

We arrived in Tirana and chilled out in the lobby of the Office for a bit as most of the team said goodbye to our Albanian friends. Then we went over to Mon Cheri, and hung out for about an hour and a half talking about highs and lows of the project. I feel like we’ve had the opportunity for multiple debriefs, which is good because it helps me refine my thoughts about the project. Sally helped me to see that God may be doing something on the guys’ side through a small core of motivated believers, even if we didn’t have a big number of meetings with non-believers this time around. I’m continuing to pray for Berti, Zamir, Egli, and Resul especially to grow in faith and to continue to multiply themselves.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and rested about 30 minutes, before meeting Lauren, Bela, and Will’s parents at the office. We walked down through the Bllok to Zgara Korcare, since Mark insisted that we go there a third time. And it was a good choice. The meat as always was excellent, as was the cheese and bread. I love that place. We all had a great time, and I especially enjoyed getting to know Will’s parents a bit more. His dad has some great stories of lives he’s impacted through his teaching career. We stopped by for some Bakllava on the way back. It was just as good as always, but now I probably don’t need to eat for about 3 days.

At the hotel, we all went to sleep a bit early because the bus was going to pick the team up at 7am for their 9:30 flight. In previous years we’ve all stayed up all night because the flight left at 4:30am. I kinda missed that closing time this year, but I did get to wake up and say goodbye to the whole team. I got to hear how well things went in Elbasan, and how well Eriol is doing with that team. That was a blessing also.

After the team left I went back to sleep and didn’t wake up till 10am. I’ll have to take it easy the next couple days, just rest and recuperate! Who knows, maybe next year I won’t be staying just a month after the project, but for a longer period of time!

Sotmeria team