We've been sending teams to Albania since 1992. Not every year, but lots of years in lots of different configurations with a wide range of purposes. The church and mission team we partner most with is the town of Erseka, in the souther part of Albania. They've asked us to send teams every other year. So June of 2017 a team of 11 went to to assist the Udhekryq (Crossroads) summer camp staff prepare for their summer season and support their work the first week of camp. Four of the 11 have been to Albania before: Linda Osborne, John Goodell, Devon Samuelian and me. For these seven, it was their first time there: Susan Glover, Craig Hartsell, Emily Hartsell, Kelsey Kimball, Shannon Muzio, Ameilia Sanders and one friend of Devon's from Canada, Mikayla Banman.
I hope you enjoy the reflections below from one of our "newbees" and her father as well as a few photos and the video that Mikayla compiled. Watch the Video Here
This summer I was blessed to go to Albania with the FPC team on a trip that turned out to be the best decision of my life! We flew into Tirana, the capital city, and stayed the night at a very modern hotel, enjoying good food and some rest. We spent the next day in a van driving to Erseke through the beautiful countryside- it was like the hills in The Sound of Music!
After our arrival into town, we took a tour of the down-to-earth city lined with cobblestone streets where laundry was set out to dry and the children would laugh and play. The rest of the week we helped set up for the summer camp by painting posters and hanging up decorations with the theme of “Stërvitu” (Training, Luke 10:27). The training was focused on loving God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.
We spent the day working- but made sure to take our mandatory coffee break midday! Volleyball also became a daily thing, which I loved. After dinner, many of the staff and local youths would play soccer. It was super fun to watch the games with the beautiful sunsets in the background! Sports were a great way to connect and enjoy each other's company since we didn’t need to speak the same language.
I loved hearing amazing stories from each of the staff who did speak English; the fulltime staff come from all over the world; Germany, China, and Canada to name a few. One of my favorite parts of the experience was the walk to town each day for ice cream- it was delicious and a great chance to just sit and talk! Tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, and bread were served at each meal along with a main course- I was pleasantly surprised the food was so good and I could not thank the cooks enough!
The second week of our stay was the first week of the summer camps and the kids of Erseke came from 9am-4pm Tuesday through Friday. I was with the younger kids (7-8 year olds) and at first it was very hard for me to communicate with them due to the language barrier. But after the first few days they warmed up to me and I learned to use my actions and gestures to communicate. The girls soon figured out I could braid hair, so I quickly learned that a tug on their hair/or mine was their way of asking me to braid their hair for them- which ended up happening a lot! The kids had a blast at the above ground camp pool while I enjoyed the rock climbing with some of the older kids and staff.
We attended church on Sundays and it was beautiful to worship Jesus Christ in another language & country. Overall, I loved this trip and I didn’t want to leave! I hope to return soon as a staff member for the whole summer.
Thank you for your support in helping our team have this adventure in serving others! I am so blessed to have such wonderful support. Your time and investment in me have helped bless my life and I am very grateful to you for that gift.
P.S. Here are some thoughts from my dad, who didn’t treat me like his daughter at all on this trip, but as a mission team member:
I enjoyed playing the different sports, especially the human foosball and archery. I was totally exhausted afterwards! (Yikes!) I got to know a few of the younger Albanian men and spent time encouraging and supporting them. It was great to see the Foleza (Nest) house or orphanage and their work taking care of ten children off the street. We are now sponsoring one of the young children to help with schooling needs. We went to visit two houses that are for girls off the streets. It was awesome to see the girls’ faces light up when they were given new handmade dresses. I enjoyed listening to my daughter speak to them about her faith in Christ. Thank you for helping us to go on this mission trip. It helped us both to grow in your faith and to live outside our comfort zones and experience God’s love to this world in a new way.