This year we unfortunately had to cancel our summer project due to COVID-19. But there’s a purpose in everything God does! Though we were sad to not see our friends during the summer, we have kept in touch with them through a weekly Zoom call. Through this weekly touchpoint, and God’s provision, we were able to go as a small team in October!

Day 1

My Fiancee Allye Foster and I traveled first, arriving Monday October 12 to participate in the high school ministry’s project. We arrived about noon, very tired from the flights. Pal picked us up at the airport and drove us to the hotel. I was very excited to see him again, we hadn’t seen eachother since he and Ueda came to Dallas in February.

Though we were very tired, in order to try to get on Albania time, we went to dinner with the High School staff team. Allye and I spent most of our time talking to Edi, Kela, and Marlie. Marlie had been there for 2 months at this point, getting acclimated to her new role as a teacher at the international school. Since she was on break this week, she decided to join us for the project.

Day 2

I started the first morning at one of my favorite coffee shops, D’Anvers right next to the hotel. I was really looking forward to my morning chocolate crossaint, but they were out! Oh well, it still felt like Albania. I was happy to be in country.

At 9:30 we went to the office for a team meeting and devotional. Allye shared what she was reading in 2 Samuel, and connected it to one of David’s psalms from when he was on the run during this narrative. We were all very encouraged. We moved from there to set up the room for the meeting at 12.

I gave a presentation about my career in Software Development. I tried to connect it to purpose, asking the question: “What is your purpose in life?” I made the point that in order to feel fulfilled in your career you need to find your purpose. Finding your purpose should inform all your career decisions. I hope that later we can connect this question to Christ. At the end I gave a little “bonus” presentation on Hacking. The students were the most interested in how hacking works.

At 2 I got lunch with a young man named Visi. He’s a believer who goes to church. We talked about commitment and purpose, he seemed to be listening but didn’t really commit to anything.

Matt Rial started his virtual presentation at 3:30. Matt had really wanted to join us in person but an illness prevented him from coming. He talked about entrepeneurship, which was very interesting for several of the boys. One of the boys who came is a social media influencer and makes several hundred dollars a month doing marketing for local businesses. Others resell items they bought off Alibaba for a decent profit. I was impressed by their hustle.

We tried some games afterwards, but it was hard to do anything fun with social distancing. Afterwards we talked for about 30 minutes with some of the boys, but they didn’t really want to go for coffee.

Day 3

We started today with another team meeting and devotional. I shared about what my community group has been reading in the book “Respectable Sins” by Jerry Bridges. We’re on the chapter about “Ungodliness”. The book makes the point that even serving the Lord can be ungodly, if we do it from our own strength instead of asking the Lord for His help and acknowledging His part in all we do.

Afterwards we had coffee at “Komiteti”. The coffee bar is themed like Albania during communism, with old rugs and old furniture from that time period. It was a fun diversion and chance to hang out with the CRU staff. We took a short tour afterwards around the Pyramid and the Berlin Wall display. We had to cut it off to be back at the office by 11.

We did games at 11 with the students. Many of the same students from yesterday came, including Kesi. It was Kesi’s birthday, so she brought us caramels to share. Matt shared again about business and entrepeneurship at noon, but not too many of the students that came today were interested in that.

For coffee we invited two boys named Sidi and Kristi. Both boys go to the local art school for music. Sidi is a believer who plays piano for his church worship band, but his friend Kristi is muslim. Kristi wants to become famous for singing. We talked some more about purpose in life, and how fame is not ultimately satisfying. Both boys stayed for my talk at 3.

This second time around we got more questions from the kids, but most of them were still interested in hacking. Sidi asked me to teach him how to hack. I showed him a set of online games called “wargames” where he can learn the basics of navigating a computer system to try to find the password. As the games get more complex, they start to teach you hacker skills. It’s also very useful for understanding how to develop secure systems. I told him that if he finished those wargames, I’d teach him more hacking.

None of the boys wanted to get coffee afterwards, they all had to go home. So we all went to a late dinner at Chocolat Italiani to celebrate Allye’s 30th birthday! It was a great time hanging out with all the CRU staff who came out to celebrate her. Our good friend Lauren Dean came out as well. It was so great to see her!

Day 4

Thursday Morning we left early to travel to Peqin and Elbasan. In Peqin we would meet a pastor whom CRU has been partnering with to do high school ministry. In Elbasan we would meet with a number of high school students who are part of the movement there, in order to encourage them.

We arrived in Peqin in the morning and met the pastor at his brand new church building. He showed us around and told us the story of how they were able to build it. Apparently many years ago he had written a letter to a Dutch ministry that supports local pastors in various poor countries, asking them to help finance a new building as they had outgrown their current one. In the meantime they began meeting at a local coffee shop, but after several years the owner told them they could no longer meet there. With much prayer and trusting God, their answer came when the Dutch ministry finally got back to them and informed the pastor that they would finance the construction of a new building! God had not forgotten them.

We heard the pastor’s story of how he came to Christ. He had been the mayor of Peqin after communism fell, and a group of missionaries from Germany arrived to do some social work in the town. When they came to ask his permission, they asked to pray for him specifically. This was new to him, as he’d never had anyone pray for him before. Later he began traveling to a church in Elbasan, and through the continued testimony of these German missionaries and the church in Elbasan, he accepted Christ.

He also gave me and Allye some pre-marital counseling, and a blessing. We were very appreciative of his blessing. He offered to marry us on the spot. I would have been OK with that! but we decided to respect our families and wait for the actual wedding date.

In Elbasan we arrived around noon and the high schoolers were already waiting for us. We introduced ourselves and began to just talk with several of the students. I began talking with two guys who are interested in IT. We had a wide ranging conversation about faith, carreer, software, and even creation vs evolution. I was glad to hear that they were committed to their faith and being part of the ministry.

We invited a couple of them to join us for a pizza lunch in the castle. We got to meet with Gedis and Çeljeta and see their 1 year old! We also sang Happy Birthday to Allye, as today was the actual date of her birthday.

Before leaving for Durres we made sure to take some pictures in the Elbasan castle. It’s a very picturesque location for some engagement photos! On the road, to keep ourselves awake, we planned out the remainder of our presentation that we would give tomorrow about Re:Gen step 1: Admit. We were not fully successful, I ended up snoozing a bit on the road.

Unfortunately when we arrived we couldn’t go straight into relaxing. We had to begin preparations for that night’s introduction to Re:Gen. I was very encouraged to see so many CRU staff there! I am friends with all of them, and loved seeing them there.

We also got to meet the Polish team! Several of our friends who have recently been through Re:Generation in Poland came to share about their experience. Their perspective was helpful as they are also CRU staff, and can relate to the Albanian CRU staff from that perspective. I got to spend extra time with Robert as he and I co-led one of the discussion groups. I appreciated hearing how Re:Gen especially helped him to recognize and forgive some old resentments that he was still holding on to, even after many years!

After dinner we got started. I could tell they were somewhat skeptical about what we were sharing. I was also not enthused to share my testimony. But I trusted in the Lord, that He had me write these things down for a reason. And I could tell afterwards that it was impactful for many of my friends in the audience. I was met with grace and acceptance. I prayed that this would pave the way for them to hear the rest of what we’d say this weekend.

Day 5

After breakfast, we started off the day with Will and Allye’s testimonies. I always appreciate hearing Allye’s testimony especially. It’s a good reminder of how I can continue to pray for her and understand where she struggles.

Allye and I together presented about Step 1: Admit. This is the foundational step of Re:Gen. It calls us to admit our powerlessness and rely on God. The central scripture is Romans 7:18:

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

The purpose of this step is to bring you to a place of dependence on God’s power, not your own. It repudiates the thought, “if I just try harder I’ll beat it this time”. Addiction doesn’t work that way. It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick (Matt 9:12). If I want the Great Physician to come help me, I need to admit that I am sick.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation of Romans 7, and that’s OK. Re:Gen is not the Gospel, it is not what ultimately saves. If you don’t follow this interpretation, you likely won’t get anything out of Re:Gen as a program, but of course you’re still a Christian. Re:Gen is not one of the essentials of our faith.

I personally believe this interpretation is correct because I’ve seen the power of surrender. I’ve boasted all the more gladly in my weaknesses, and seen the power of God rest upon me to heal me. I also agree with John Piper’s analysis, which you can read here.

Afterwards we walked on the beach and each of us picked up a stone or something small to keep with us for the whole weekend. These would represent burdens that we are carrying, and the meaning of them was especially powerful when Marlie shared her testimony on Sunday.

During the free time I got to go out and play soccer with the guys! It was a fun time to hang out with them. Unfortunately by the time I got back we only had an hour left of free time, and Allye went back to her room to nap. So while we had wanted to hang out with each other for a bit we were unable to.

In the evening we introduced the concept of Inventory. The remote team presented the topic over Zoom. We asked the Albanians to write down just one or two resentments and fears, and use the tool to analyze the root cause of each of those.

In the small group discussion I shared about some resentments I had been holding on to, which I was finally able to forgive only because I identified them using Inventory as a tool. We talked about big and small sins, and that it’s worth even investigating the small ones. I think it’s going well with the small group.

After a long day, Allye and I were both exhausted, so we both went to bed early.

Day 6

Today was a high school ministry day. Allye and I traveled back to Tirana to help Pal and Ueda with the high school ministry, while Will, Chris, and the rest of the remote team continued with the Re:Gen training.

We borrowed my friend Afrim’s car to drive back to Tirana, and we took Berti’s daughter Klea with us. Klea is in high school and is very involved in the ministry. On the way she told us about her school project, she is studying the education systems in various countries and writing a paper about ways to improve them. We encouraged her to continue her studies, it sounds like she’s excited to go to university in Tirana.

We arrived in Tirana about 10am, and helped set up for the event which started at 11. Allye took charge of being the emcee for the event! She ran the games and the Texas Trivia, then she shared her story of grace and explained the Bridge illustration, which is a method of sharing the Gospel.

While she was sharing, I noticed one of the girls in the audience, whom Allye had met with for coffee earlier in the week. The girl had pulled out a post-it note and was showing it to her friends. I got a closer look - it was the bridge illustration! Allye had drawn that out for her during their earlier meeting and she had kept it. I was excited to see that it had an impact on her!

After we finished cleaning up, Allye and I went for a late lunch at D’Angelo, which has savory crepes as well as desserts. Pal, Ueda, and Klea joined us. From there, Allye and I went souvenir shopping while Klea went back to play uno with her friends at the high school ministry office. We shopped around for lots of gifts for supporters, and we also saw a really nice hand-woven rug in one shop that we wanted to buy for our future house together. It was expensive though so we didn’t buy it that day.

When we got back to Durres that night we were exhausted, so after dropping Klea off at the hotel Allye and I went into the city center for dinner. We went to a seafood restaurant that is on the end of a pier overlooking the harbor. I had been there previously - our team went there for a big dinner in 2015. We had a very nice and relaxing dinner and walk together, buying some baklava at a bakery on the way back to the car.

As exhausted as we were, we were very ready to finish up the trip the next day. It had been a very long, but very fruitful week.

Day 7

The final day of the Re:Gen training retreat went by quickly. We started with Marlie’s testimony. She shared powerfully about how she had been carrying around unforgiveness like a stone in her shoe, and showed us the rock that she picked up from the beach on Friday. She had been keeping it in her shoe all weekend as a reminder! Then she challenged us to take our stones or items that we picked up on Friday and drop them off in the trashcan at the front, which was set at the foot of a Cross. This symbolized laying down our burdens at the foot of the Cross.

We also heard Carolina’s testimony. She shared a lot about the shame she felt, feeling like she was the only one who struggled with the things that she confessed to us. Re:Gen was especially hard for her since she went through it with her parents, Robert and Beata. But now they are closer as a family than they have ever been!

As we were ending, we made sure to remind our Albanian friends that Re:Gen is not the Gospel. We came to Albania to share it with them because through this tool we found freedom and healing. Because we love them, we wanted to share it with them as well.

The Polish team’s flight was leaving that same day in the evening, so we thanked them and ended the meeting early, around 11am. We all had lunch together and packed up. Allye and I sat with Ilir and Lida for lunch. Ilir had been my team leader when I was working here with the young professionals. We talked everything from the Re:Gen program to our wedding preparations, and we asked them for some marriage advice as well.

On the way back to Tirana, Allye and I quickly stopped to buy that rug that we saw on Saturday. It was still expensive but it was worth it to have something to remind us of our first trip to Albania together. I can’t wait to figure out where in our new house we are going to put it!

We had dinner that night with Berti and Adi Berhami, at their house. Pal and Ueda also joined us. It was a really great night of fun and fellowship with our best friends in Albania. Even more awesome was when Lauren Dean and Berti Nikolli came to visit us! They had just returned from a weekend expedition to Valbona, which is a national park in the mountains. They shared stories and we enjoyed visiting with them too.

Conclusion

This has been a whirlwind trip. Trying to do two projects at once was exhausting. I learned some things as well. I learned through experience what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.

In the past, as a single man, on these trips I have operated at full speed and planned to rest afterwards. This time I had to worry about Allye, and make sure I was honoring her well and paying atention to her exhaustion level. I didn’t do that as well as I should have. We talked through it, and I realized that I cannot just go full-speed at ministry anymore. My ministry must now include her.

Meanwhile, the Albanian leadership team has decided to move forward with Re:Gen! There is no obligation, but some of the staff who were present at the weekend training are excited to start going through the year-long curriculum. They want to start as soon as November!

I unfortunately cannot be personally involved in leading small groups. I have more important things to focus on, namely Allye and my wedding on January 30! I have offered to be a mentor though, to anyone who would have me. This is a smaller commitment than leading a group, but no less necessary.

We are excited for the future and what God is going to do through our Albanian friends. We are continuing to support them as best we can, and fulfill [our mission statement])(https://www.teamalbania.org/blog/2019-02-25-the-plus-in-albania-plus). We are committed to continuing this ministry in Albania for the long haul, God willing. Thanks for praying for us!