For the past two years I have had the privilege of experiencing Christmas and New Years in Eastern Europe. Last year I was in the Czech Republic, and this year I travelled down to Albania. Many of you know of my love for Albania and the history of ministry and relationships that I have there. It is for those reasons why this trip was such a huge blessing for me. In some ways it was like being with close family again. The 12 days that I spent there were full of laughter, coffee, walking, resting, kids kids kids, church, sleeping, reading, eating, praying, crying, and many other things etc. etc.. Hopefully you understand...it was a good time! Below are some of the moments from my trip with some brief descriptions. Enjoy!
On December 24th. 1 train, 2 planes, 1 cab , 9 hours. Whenever I can I usually try and pick a window seat. I didn't realize I would be right next to the propeller though. It certainly added some context to the shot. This first shot was after we were entering into Albania.
Surprisingly, on Christmas morning I was the first one downstairs and ready to go. With the little ones who tend to wake up pretty early, I figured this would be no competition. I was wrong!
Shiloh was ready to go for sure. Bright eyed and ready to open her gifts. We made sure to start the day right though with some breakfast. Kristine made an amazing quiche (which I forgot to take a picture of) along with a coffee cake that was equally as good.
Taliah ended up napping through the present opening part of the morning. But that didn't phase Shiloh who went right to town with opening her gifts. I brought her some sun glasses that I thought would be useful.
That same evening (Christmas Day), the church the Cramers and Lamberts are a part of held their very first Christmas program. Families and students from all over town came. There was singing, dancing, and even a "lottery" (a raffle). There was also a really clear presentation of the gospel. At the end of the program, all the attendies were invited to come to church the following Sunday.
The church in Pogradec is recent church plant from a church in Korce about 45 minutes away. Korce is the city that my home church in WA was working with for the past handful of summers. And now they have planted a church in Pogradec. The main pastor and his wife are amazing people. It was a great to be able to connect with them again and see and experience all that they are doing.
Their church is currently meeting in the bottom floor of an apartment building close to the lake. It is a great space that serves well as a meeting place for their young but growing church. They are hoping to relocate when the time and finances permit. Currently there is a building just across the street that they are trying to be granted permission from the government to take over (the "Kung-Fu" picture) and use as a more permanent church facility.
New Years morning I walking down by the lake to take some photos and pray. This lake (Lake Ohrid) borders with Macedonia. In the first picture below, Macedonia is located on the right hand side, just outside the framing of the picture.
I loved to be able to just walk through the city. When you walk, you can do a lot of other things that you wouldn't necessarily be able to to if you drove. Things move slower. You move slower. And you have more time to listen, think, and observe all that's around you. Since being in Albania I have been walking a lot more, just to walk. Go for a walk!
On one of the days towards the end of my trip, The Cramers were invited over to lunch with the family of a girl who is in Kristine's bible study and attends the church. I was thankful to be able to join them. We arrived and were warmly welcomed inside their lovely home at the top of the hill. Before starting the meal, we sat together and chatted over lemonade and some snacks.
Let me tell you, I am so impressed with Cory and Kristine and their language skills. They have been living in Albania for just over a year and half. Their ability to understand and speak the language is amazing. I would listen and try and follow along in their conversations, but really had no chance. Although, after living in Czech for almost two years, I've gotten pretty good at guessing and learning how to understand and communicate with people in almost every other way. So I wasn't completely out of the loop. But it was nice when Cory would lean over and give me the rundown of the dialogue.
After some time we were invited to come out back to see how the meal was being prepared. In the back was a little bbq that the son was cooking the "Shish Kabobs" on. It was pretty cool. The dad would hand fire wood through the window to the son who would then add it to the fire. He then pulled us around the corner to show us the "pantry." The first picture was a picture of that moment. They filled all those jars themselves...with their own food! In fact, almost everything we ate for the meal was grown right in their village. It was some of the best of everything I've ever had.
After the meal, the son took Cory and I up to their roof that looks out over the whole city. He has a little workspace up there as well where he works on restoring and repairing broken electrical equipment. It was awesome! I was inspired by his motivation to learn and work hard. And to be able to do it in such a rad spot. Check out the custom dumbbell just below the window.
These were some of the guys I got to spend some time with during this trip. All of them (except for the girl) are in Cory's Bible study each week.
The kiddos! They were everywhere! And soooo much fun. Since my friends started having kids, I have learned to love them more and more. It makes me excited for the day when I will have a few of my own :)
In Albania, the market is somewhere you go on the daily. There isn't a Costco close by to make your once a month bulk run. So this is OFTEN where you have to go. Oh, and no one takes credit cards. Everything is in cash.
Thanks for having me again guys! Can't wait to see you again! From left to right. Amaraldo, Kevi, me, Marjo.
To the Cramers and the Lamberts, I love you guys. I am thankful for what God has done in our lives. Looking forward to all that we get to continue to be a part of with Him.