first things first

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

Acts 29

This month, while we’ve been working on the summer project here in Albania, I’ve been reading the book of Acts. I love all the descriptions in the book of Acts of faithful people who were not Apostles. Some of them, like Cornelius the centurion, had been faithful for a very long time, and God answered their prayers powefully.

About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. … While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. Acts 10:3-4,44-45

Our past or at Watermark, Todd Wagner, recently did a sermon series on the book of Acts. His main point was that the book of Acts didn’t end, the story continues through us as the Church. Acts is just the beginning of the Church Age. The Holy Spirit is just as much at work today as He was back then, and in areas of the world where believers are less blind to His effect, He is working just as powerfully as back then.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. John 14:12

In this blog post I want to collect some of the stories that have happened during the month I’ve been staying in Albania. For those who didn’t know, after the summer project finished (which you can read about here), I have been staying in Albania and working remote. The number one reason is that my good friend Pal Hila is getting married on the 28th. But I also want to be available for additional follow up and discipleship from the project.

Stories worth sharing

The Earthquake

We had a morning prayer session the first day of the project, and while we were praying an earthquake struck! Read about it more here –>

Pastor On Call Opportunities

Even though I’m on the IT team at Watermark, I still get opportunities to be a Pastor On Call, or respond when others need help. For example, one of my POC opportunities was meeting a homeless couple together with Bruce Kendrick, Ben Pukas and Jessica Coates. I got the husband’s phone number and have been keeping up with him ever since, trying to help them get plugged in at Watermark and into ReGen.

On my first day working remote from Albania, I had another opportunity when a friend called and wanted to have a coffee. I ended up taking an extra hour in the middle of the day, which I made up later that evening, to talk with him. He was feeling really down and upset at himself, partly due to circumstances and partly due to his own procrastination. After talking a while we also discussed some sin issues that were in his life, and I got to encourage him with what I’ve been learning through ReGen. He doesn’t feel like his life can change. I used to feel that way too. But our God is in the business of changing lives. I’m continuing to pray for him every day I’m in Albania.

I also got to encourage a couple friends who are going through some conflict, some of it as a result of the demands of this project with Sotmeria. They had come to me to discuss some of the miscommunication that occurred. I told them about the 24 hour rule that Watermark staff has. If I were to come to you and tell you about issues I have with another person on staff, even say Todd Wagner himself, you would respond by asking me to go directly to Todd and share these concerns. You would tell me that in 24 hours you’ll call Todd yourself and say that Gordon had something to talk to him about, and ask if we had had an opportunity to meet. If not, you’d offer to go together with me to clarify things.

I explained to my friend that I think the same rule applies here. I’d been praying for them throughout the week, and later heard that they were able to have a great conversation with the people that they had been compaining about.

Evangelism Opportunities

While working remote in Tirana, I decided not to simply work from the apartment where I was staying. I paid for 2 weeks in a co-working space, which turned out to be a great decision not just for my own sanity, but also for opportunities for evangelism.

Morning Coffee Spot My morning coffee spot

The first opportunity I had was with a guy whom I’d shared the Gospel with over a year ago. He was in town just for one day, but I was able to meet with him because I was already in the center of the city. He doesn’t consider himself a Muslim or a Christian. He’s in the process of finishing reading the Koran, and I encouraged him to read the Bible as well. I helped him to download the Bible app on his phone, and showed him how to activate the audio-book feature. I will keep up with him over facebook to encourage him to keep reading the Bible.

View from the Office The view from the office

My second week in the office I struck up a conversation with the IT manager for the office. We were able to go out for coffee the next day, and had a nice long conversation where the Gospel was clearly shared. He comes from a Muslim background but does not practice. In fact he considers religion to be too wrapped up in politics. He looks at ornate churches and mosques, and wonders why they don’t do more for the poor. He’s also had a very bad experience with corruption here in Albania, and is mostly looking for a way out. He told me he’ll be “reborn” when he manages to leave Albania.

We talked about the Gospel message, as I was explaining why I had come to Albania (this is apparently a hot topic - why would an American like me want to come to Albania?). We discussed 1 Corinthians 15, as I was making the point that my faith is rooted in fact. He was surprised that I actually believe in an afterlife. He does not. He’s very much got his hope rooted in this life only. Please pray for Edison.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:17-19

Another opportunity came at the same office, on my final day. As we walked in to the office, the manager asked me how it can be that a engineer, a scientific type, can be involved in the church? Don’t I see them as incompatible? She and I had a wide ranging discussion in full view of the entire office. One of the ladies with her door open said that she was interested in the conversation but had work to do, so she was listening.

I shared some of my personal testimony about how God used the book “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel to bring me to Himself. As I read that book, I realized that Jesus Christ’s resurrection is a historical fact. And it occurred to me for the first time that I had not been living as though that fact were true. It’s the fact that changes the entire direction of your life. This is how a scientist or engineer can believe the Bible, because it’s rooted in fact.

I again went back to 1 Corinthians 15 to point out that even Paul the Apostle, whom I consider an authority on the subject, said that without the resurrection our faith is worthless. She said that she cannot believe in something that is outside the natural order of things. I replied with a smile that it appears that I have the more open mind. Please pray for Eriona.

Relationship and Partnership Building

World Cup watching Watching the World Cup with friends

Church Camp

The past two years, Guri i Themelit (Cornerstone) Church has hosted a discipleship camp in Vlora. I really enjoyed going last year and fortunately was able to work it out with my job that I could go again this year. This summer we had fewer people, many of the young professionals were not able to make it because of work. But I was able to take the opportunity to get to know a couple of guys better whom I didn’t have much of a relationship with before.

My small group for the discussion time included Mattias, Arti Cana, Roel Taga, Landi Dermyshi, and Berti Nikolli. The theme of the camp was Paul’s letters to Timothy. Each day we discussed a different “key word” or theme:

  1. Love, from a pure heart and a clean conscience.
  2. Doctrine, which protects the Gospel
  3. Gifts, your spiritual gifting
  4. Purpose, the objective of your life.

View from the Beach Sunset from the bluff

A lot of very real discussion took place. I was glad to see the guys opening up somewhat. We talked a lot on the last day about things that would block us from achieving our purpose, and was that we get distracted. Other than the #1 most obvious distraction, (girls), various sin issues were also discussed, if still in vague terms. It’s a difficult culture over there to discuss these things openly, but I’m glad we got to at least introduce the subject.

We also played a lot of Spikeball on the sand. Me and Roel on a team were almost unbeatable. I left the Spikeball with the CRU high school ministry so that they can keep enjoying it at their camps.

Pal’s Bachelor Party

The #1 reason that I stayed so long in Albania this summer was to attend Pal Hila’s wedding. Pal and I were roommates for the two years that I lived there, and he has been together with Ueda for almost 5 years. The reason they waited so long was primarily due to her parents having objections to the marriage. They are from a Muslim background, and Pal comes from a Catholic background. So, when they finally consented to the marriage, we knew we had to celebrate.

I was honored when Pal asked me to be his best man. I think it not only speaks to our friendship, but also to the partnership we have developed with the Albanian staff over these years. Our friendship has been very precious to me and I gladly accepted the responsibility of being his best man.

One of the duties of the best man in America, as I informed Pal, was to plan the bachelor party. I asked our good friend Erald, who owns a tourism business in Albania, for a suggestion of a good spot to go on a day trip. He suggested Shengjergj, a village on the other side of Dajti mountain. There’s a waterfall, and I later found a hiking trail up to a mountain lake. It’s only 5 kilometers, I thought. No big deal, we’ll hike from morning till late afternoon and then go have dinner.

Shengjergj waterfall Shengjergj waterfall

The waterfall was really cool! It’s a short walk from the main road, through a wooded area following along a creek. The water was cool and clear, very fresh. We were not the only ones there, it’s a fairly heavily trafficed tourist stop. So, we left there around 11:30 am and headed over to the village where the trail started.

Swimming in a mountain lake Swimming on top of a mountain

There was some discussion about whether we should actually do this adventure, but we decided to go ahead with it, especially since Pal was enthusiastic about it. It ended up being quite the hike up the side of the mountain. At one point we lost the trail and ended up scrambling up a steep hill to find it again. But, at the end, the lake we found was very beautiful. The water was fresh and clear, coming from a natural spring at the top of the mountain. Some of the guys took a swim, while others stayed out because they were afraid of snakes. Noone was bitten, God was with us! Afterwards, when we had arrived at the bottom, Aldo said that now that he knows how far it was, he should not have agreed to go!

Aldo and the high school guys had to go after that, and some other guys who could not go to the hiking adventure joined us for dinner at Nari. Nari is just outside Tirana, near TEG, and it’s up on a hill with a good view of the valley. We had an outdoor table and spent the evening enjoying conversation and toasting to Pal’s wedding. The best bachelor parties end up with stories to tell, and the guys couldn’t stop sharing about the hiking adventure up the mountain.

The Wedding

Cutting the Cake

No better way to end this blog post than with the wedding! You’d think it was royalty getting married with how many people RSVP’d. The venue was on top of mount Dajti, overlooking Tirana. It was a very beautiful outdoor setting, and God kept the rain away. The main ceremony was more western style. After the bride came to the altar, Pastor Ylli preached for about 15 minutes on the meaning of marriage. He did a good job of talking about a Biblical perspective on marriage while being respectful of the Muslims in the audience, especially Ueda’s parents. The ceremony itself went fairly quickly, as western-style marriage ceremonies generally do, and then we began the reception.

The reception consisted almost entirely of Albanian traditional music and dancing, DJ’d by our good friend Endri. Endri himself finally set a date for his wedding, it will be in August. I’m looking forward to photos from that wedding as well! We wrapped up all the dancing around 2:30pm, and left the venue to take a break before the second wedding.

Pal & Ueda Dancing

We had about 6 hours before the second wedding, which is mainly for the Bride’s family. This one took place in Lezhe, their home town. It was much more traditional style. The bride and her family got there early and took their places, and then they wait for the groom. He comes with his whole family a couple hours later. When they enter, they make sure to shake the hands of the whole bride’s family, and then the groom takes his place and the dancing can resume.

There were a number of interesting traditions that I was glad to experience. At one point a pair of kids came out and performed a dance routine. At another point, several of the women put on traditional Albanian costumes and danced for a while in those. There was a lot of dancing and celebrating well into the night. The cake didn’t even come out until 2:15 AM.

Me with the couple

Unfortunately I had not realized that it would go this late when I booked my plane tickets, and so I had to leave at 2:30 am. This was a good excuse for some of the others to leave as well, those who didn’t want to stay until the party fizzled out in the late morning. So we unintentionally interrupted the party to line up and say goodbye. I’ll miss Pal and Ueda a lot, but I’m really glad I got to be there for their wedding. It’s a memory I’ll treasure for a long time.