It seems that my plans to update my blog several times during my trip to Albania didn't happen! It seems I got busy. I am currently back in Bangor having arrived last night. I'm feeling a bit tired but we'll come back to that later on.
So what did I do in the second week?
James and I went up to Tepelene to perform a concert which became known as 'The Magical Mr. Steve tour. It was fun. There was a nice little group of us, many from the camps. It was great to see everyone. We sang some camp songs and I sang some of my own songs. It was a lovely time!
It was good see the likes of Tea (bottom left), Sindi (bottom right), Alex (middle top), and
Klajdi (Top right). I met Tajana that day. The other four have been coming to the camps for several years now. Tea and Sindi will be going off to uni next year. When I am living in Albania I hope to visit them there
On the way back from Tepelene, we stopped off in Asim Zeneli which is a village opposite Gjirokaster. We got there at lunch time and everything was closed so we went further up the road to the next one. We did find a little cafe... but we might have got the old-lady out of bed. Opps! It was a lovely day.
On Fridays and Saturdays, local boys get together and play some table-football or do something together. The Tuesday before was Shrove Tuesday so James and I did a pancake night. We expected 10-12 (16 at the most). We had over 20! It was great. We had to get more eggs and milk. We managed to teach Lenci and Vasili to make the pancakes and left them to it.
Went to Church in the morning. Good stuff. Good turn out. Shaun spoke from 1 Samuel 19-22. Looking at Saul's character. Very interesting.
After the service, we had another concert in Gjirokaster. There was quite a small turn out. But those who turned up were the cream of the crop. Metty, Albina, Albion etc etc. It was great, but there was only about 7 of us. It felt slightly weird with such a small group.
Shaun, Jen, Summer and myself got into the car and went on a trip into Northern Greece to the town of Iaonnina. We were going to Ikea and several other places but when we got there it was all closed! On the Sunday they had a carnival and everyone was having a holiday. We stopped off at the evangelical church on the way back. The church in Iaonnina has been there for over 100 years! A lovely little building. While we were there we met a group of young American missionaries who are working with the local students. In the past Iaonnina has been a much neglected place and much prayer has gone into it. Praise the Lord that work has begun there.
In the morning, I went for a walk around the old town. It's a great place! With old cobbled streets and old houses. Very beautiful. Gjirokaster is build on the side of a mountain. And there is a massive street! It's a steep one. People in Bangor complain about Glanrafon Hill, but that's nothing compared to this one. The great thing about wondering round someone you don't is that you can't get lost... I'll explain! If you're not trying to get somewhere specific you can't not get there. 'Where am I?' I am in Gjirokaster. You can turn around and look down the mountain and see which side you're on. Just aim for the main road and hope for the best. It was great.
After my walk, I met Kristi, Albina, Juxhin and Ina for a drink. It was a good chance to catch up. Juxhin became a Christian about 18 months ago (WAHHoOOOOO), Albina became a Christian a week after camp (WAHOOOOOOOO) and Kristi became a Christian about 3 weeks ago (WAAHHOOOOOO). Great stuff.
That afternoon we went up to Tepelene and then to Memeliaj were Juxhin, Kristi and I stayed over at Geni's house. Saimir came over and we watch LOTR: The Return of the King.
What did I do on Wednesday? I woke up at Geni's house and spent most of the morning with Geni. Then I found a car that was heading towards Gjirokaster. Got back to Gjirokaster at 11-ish. I spent the afternoon with James and Lori. James was preparing for the Bible study in the evening. It was very interesting. He was talking about the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16.
After Bible study, James and I went to Petrit's house for a meal. WOW! What a meal. We had rice, pasta, bread, cheese, olives, meat, sausages, raki etc etc. Loads of food. It was great. I was stuffed by the end of it all!
On Thursday, we went up to Ballsh. Ballsh is a place where there has been Church activity in the passed, but in the last few years the church has dispanded. The team are hoping to plant a Church there. One of my weekly activities will be to help out with various clubs happening every week. Ballsh is about 2 hours away from Gjirokaster, it seems like a long way but it'll be worth it. It's a great place.
We went to Ballsh to look into several things. We needed to find a venue to have the service. We found a good lead and I will be asking how that went. We were also looking for a warehouse to store thousands of Operation Christmas Child boxes, and Shaun was hoping to get permission from the Director of Education so that we could give out the shoe boxes. But sadly the director wasn't in.
Ballsh is a very nice town. I really enjoyed the visit. Just before you enter the valleyyou pass by several oil pumps which give out the smell of sulphur, which isn't so nice. While we were there Petrit, Geni and myself went for a wander to see if we could find any venues up for rent.
We saw a few. We stopped for some lunch and bought some 'Byrek'. These are triangular pastry things, as you can see in the picture. Petrit asked how many I wanted. I was still full from the night before so I said one. Petrit ordered 6 accordingly, two each. They are massive and I asked Geni how much they were. He said, '180 lek'. 'For one?' I said. 'No, for all of them.' The Byrek were 30 lek each. That's about 18p!?!?! We had spinach ones.... yum yum yum.
In the evening, I played piano and sang some songs with the Boys from the church. That was fun.
By Friday, I was pretty tired! Lots of travelling and what not. Didn't do too much on Friday morning, but in the afternoon we went up to the kids clubs in Tepelene. We sang some songs with the kids in English. All good stuff.
In the evening I had a meal with Geoff and Shirley. They made a really nice curry. Hopefully, we can start a curry night when I'm back.
A big day! We took 25 young people for a walk in the hills behind Lebahova, in a town called
Labova e Kryqit. The town has a really old Byzantian church. The foundations are from a 9th building and the current church is from the 13th century. There used to be a totally legit relic. A real part of the real cross which the real Jesus was really crucified on. The town's name, in English, means Labova of the Cross. In the unrest of '97, the relic was nicked! Cheeky, eh? Oh well, it's only a piece of wood and in my opinion the few idols the better. Who's with me? YEAH!!!!
We started off at the church and started to walk up the hill towards the upper village were we had a break at a spring. Then onward over to a pre-Roman Illyrian castle. Not much was left only a wall remains. but it was pretty cool being there with all the people I've known over the years. It was a good chance for people to catch up and to get to know each other better. It was a beautiful day.
I quite enjoy the activity known as Geocaching. Basically, all over the world are hidden little caches. Some are tiny and some are huge. They often contain a log-book and some little trophies that people add to or take. You use your map or GPS device to locate the cache. There aren't that many in Albania, but now there is one more. James and I hid a small tub inside a hole in the wall. I will check up on it sometime next year to see if anyone has found it.
After we got back from the walk I said goodbye to a lot of my friends. The first set of goodbyes of many.
In the evening I cooked for James and Lori. I made a lasagna. I enjoy making lasanga and this one was probably the best one I've ever made. My goodness, it was delicious!!!
Church in the morning. I slept over at James' house. And I rocked up to the church on time and Shaun greeted me with the question, 'Which guitar would you like to play?' I choose my favourite and played for the service. I quite enjoyed the last minute role. I felt like I'd been accepted into the team. James commented that it feels natural me being there and that I fit in really well. To which I replied 'Yeeesssh!' (If you can imagine Sam Ball saying it then that what I did). I love the guys there and I can't wait till I serve with them again.
I spent Sunday afternoon making some hymn-sheets for that evening. At 5pm we had a good ol' sing-song. I led the evening and people picked songs from the sheets. Afterwards we watched the Sound of Music.
I packed up my bags and said my goodbyes to everyone that I had to. I ate a Pace Koka with James (Sheeps brain stew, yum yum yum), bought some necessary things from the shop (Raki, Salep, Chocreme etc). And got on a minibus to Fier where I was to stay the night.
Another very long day. I got into a forgon at 8 (GMT +1) and arrived at Tirane at half 9. Got to the airport and hung around for a bit. Looked at different shops. I bought a Albania-English-Albanian dictionary, which will come in very useful.
When I got through the check-in I sat down at a cafe and ordered some hot chocolate. What came was a delicious, thick liquid.
Got the plane at 2:30. Arrived in UK 4:40 (GMT). Got to the train station and got back to Bangor around 10:30. Last night I stayed at Sam's house and I'll go back to Brian and Isobel's tonight.
So yeah! I'm back. I've had a great to weeks and my love for the country of Albania and it's people have grown hugely. I love it there. To me life makes more sense there.
I have several months now to prepare, pray, raise money and complete more work here. There is a lot to do and even though I miss Albania a lot at the moment, I know that God has things to teach me which I am still here.
When the plane landed in Gatwick I felt awful. I felt like I'd been pulled away from the one that I love. But it is in times like this that we are driven to prayer and driving to depend on the Lord for strength. Being in Albania (and indeed any mission field) is emotionally draining, and by the time I'd said goodbye to the people and places I was tired. But the words 'Sepse ai jeton kam fuqi per neser, sepse ai jeton s'kam frike me' came to mind. Which are the Albanian words for the chorus, 'Because he lives, I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone.' The literal translation is 'Because he lives I have strength for tomorrow, because he lives I have no fear.' This gives me great encouragement.
In the coming months, I hope to progress with my Albanian language study and with making preparations. I will also be continuing my work for Hope Church here in Bangor, and I count it an honour to be working for them. They have been so great to me and I'm sure I don't even realise how much I am benefitting from being among them.
I think that is all from me for now. I don't know when I will be blogging next, but let's hope it is soon. I might start putting my sermons up. I am preaching on 'Christ' on the 1st April looking at Colossians chapter 1. I'm looking forward to that.