first things first

A blog about whatever crosses my mind, ordered by importance.


My journal for the 2017 project is up!

Summer retreat group photo by Lauren Dean

End of the road

All good things come to an end, and my STINT in Albania is no different. On 7 August I fly back to Dallas to spend at least 1 year there, with the hope that I’ll return to live in Albania sooner rather than later. At this point I’m holding all my plans loosely. I know what I want to do for the next year, but beyond that it’s up to God.

Over two years here I’ve grown to love Albania, and especially all the people here who have become brothers and sisters to me. It’s going to be very difficult moving back. From multiple people who’ve experienced this, I’ve heard that re-integration into your home culture is harder than leaving the first time. Praise the Lord I have several blessings to look forward to. I’ll be moving back into the exact same room in the same rental house that I left. All 3 of my roommates are very good friends, and 2 of them have been to Albania multiple times. I’ll be back in the same community group, with 3 additions and 1 subtraction by marriage. My good friend Will Noll has offered to mentor me through the transition process, since he himself went through it several years ago after spending two years in China. He has also offered to mentor me through ReGen.

ReGen is my #1 purpose for going back to Dallas for a year. I’ve come to realize that the best thing I can do for my long-term effectiveness in service is to ensure I am waging war against temptation and sin, with all the tools at my disposal. So I’m going back for training and equipping, with the intention of returning to Albania armed with additional weapons that I can share with my Albanian friends. There’s a big need here in Albania for openness and transparency, and especially grace with regard to the sin struggles we all share.

After I finish ReGen my intention is to actively seek out a good time to return to Albania, but there’s several things that could cause me to stay in Dallas up to 2 years. One is my mentee through Mercy Street, Demarcus. I haven’t been able to mentor him well these two years but am looking forward to helping him as he enters his junior year of High School. Staying two years in Dallas would enable me to see him all the way through Graduation. Another reason could be to help facilitate the Albania summer trips during that second year. If for some reason I end up staying through December 2018, it would make sense to stay an additional 6 months and help the Albania team prep from the American side. I would then just stay in Albania after the 2019 summer trip.

In all of this, I’m trusting that the Lord will provide clarity when the time is right. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts, His ways higher than my ways. If he directs me to stay in Dallas even longer, it’s for my good. Even if I want to go back to Albania sooner than that.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

One of the things I had to deal with emotionally here was the feeling that I was far from home. As many new friends as I’ve made, as much as I’ve adapted to the culture, Albania still is not my home. But now, as I am getting ready to move back to Dallas, I don’t really feel that Dallas is my home either. What comforts me is, as I read the bible, this is normal for the believer. The believer should not feel home.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16

I have a purpose that transcends this life. My life is not about trying to build a home here. My life is about building for eternity. The only things that will last are the things that we do to build into people. I am so thankful to God that He gave me the opportunity to take part in what he did here. My roommate Pal Hila, at dinner on the last day of the project this year, stood up and said that God could have done all of this without us. He could have done all of this also without the staff. But he chose to use us. He chose to allow us to take part in His work, and we get to enjoy that for eternity. That’s where my home is. That’s where my investment is.

While I’m back in Dallas, I’ll definitely be making use of my happy place - lake LBJ west of Austin often. But even though that is the one piece of ground that I most enjoy, that it would grieve me most to lose, I am still ready to give that up as an offering to God. I will move back to Albania, if the Lord wills, giving up easy access to that and to my favorite baseball team the Texas Rangers. I’ll do that because I know where my true home is. I know that even though I’m living far from my earthly “home”, I’m just as close to the throne room of God in Albania as I am anywhere else on earth.

One of the most beautiful things about missions is the knowledge that even though your heart is split in two places, you know that there is no permanent goodbye. If the Lord doesn’t will that I ever come back to Albania, the goodbyes I’m saying now are still only temporary goodbyes. All my best friends here I will see again when we are together in the presence of God. I’ll enjoy these last few weeks, and I’ll savor these beautiful moments. And maybe I’ll shed some tears on the plane ride back to Dallas :). But that knowledge, that we are all just a vapor here and then we are with God forever, that goodbyes are normal but also not permanent, is very comforting.

Shifemi shumë shpejt miq :)

sunset photo by Lauren Dean