For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you
the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,
so that with one mind and one voice
you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:4-6 (NIV)
Almost ten months ago, we moved to Tirana to begin serving at GDQ International Christian School. It’s been a busy year, one filled with as much learning as teaching. After twenty years ministering in Latin America, we still look around us and ask ourselves, “How did we get here?” God surely has a sense of humor to call us to a new place, a new culture and a new language at our age! Yet we are confident that He has brought us here and that He will continue to sustain us with endurance and encouragement that we may bring Him glory through this work.
So now we need to spend some time reflecting back on this school year, peeling back the layers on all we have experienced. We’ve visited several historic sites this year – castles and ruins – and have been undeniably impressed by the effort that goes in to peeling back the layers of time to uncover centuries of history. How much we can learn by looking back! Though we’ve had years of missions experience and came to teach and to serve in administration at GDQ, we’ve found we still have much to learn. In the Albanian language (speaking of much to learn!), the word “mësoj” can mean “I learn” or “I teach”. In the same way, we have found teaching and learning inexplicably intertwined through our hearts and minds this year.
Through innumerable meetings and cappuccinos, Len is learning how to appreciate the culture and history of GDQ School, how to navigate our educational software systems, and how to implement changes in a way that serves the needs of a diverse international population of staff and students. As he’s taught Business Math in the high school, he’s learned more about the culture and personalities of students whose parents are from Guatemala, the United States, Norway, Italy, Hungary, and Albania.
In Middle School Bible classes, Betsy is learning to teach God’s Word to students with disparate background knowledge of and interest in the Scriptures. As she participates in the Middle School youth ministry and leads a small group of Grade 6 girls each week, Betsy is discovering the unique stories, gifts and struggles of her students from varying faith experiences. Leading Lower School chapels continues to reveal the need to share the stories of the Bible in an understandable, creative and meaningful way with children.
And among other things, we’re learning to pay our monthly internet bill on time so it doesn’t get cut off. We’re realizing we need to invest more time and energy, even after long school days, into learning Albanian so we can build relationships within our community. Our understanding of the fascinating and complex history of Albania, politically and spiritually, is being enriched by wandering Tirana and by traveling to sites and cities outside the capital. Finally, we’ve come to know how much we depend on serving with a community of believers and co-laborers who share their guidance, counsel, friendship, joy and struggles in life and ministry.
Looking back over this year and looking ahead to summer in the United States then returning to Albania for the next school year, we are filled with hope. In so many ways, it has been a great year, but it’s not always easy, especially being so far from our own children and granddaughter, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. We miss many special occasions back home in the US. We struggle with the cold in winter and the heat in summer and the constant noise and pollution in the city. We are frustrated at our lack of ability to communicate. We are often exhausted after a long week of school. We’ve made mistakes, offended or hurt others through miscommunication or misunderstandings. Sometimes it’s just plain hard.
And yet, we are filled with hope – hope that we can make a difference for God here, hope that He can use us to see lives and hearts and a society transformed by the power of the Gospel, hope that any sacrifices we make will seem as gain as we relentlessly pursue obedience to Christ. Pray with us that His Word will peel back the layers of many hearts and plant seeds of hope through personal knowledge of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!