Settling In

It’s now been a full month since we arrived in Tirana, Albania! And it has literally been a full month – full of learning, lesson plans, new friends and new foods, more than a few humbling language struggles and missing family back home. We arrived on Friday, August 25. After a weekend of settling in to our 8th floor apartment, shopping for items for our home, learning bus routes and being generously welcomed and hosted by coworkers, we officially began the school year at the GDQ International Christian School.

Len is adjusting to splitting his time between the two campuses, about 3 blocks  apart. One building houses the K-8 and the other is for the High School. He’s been studying the school handbooks and spending time in meetings with other administrators and teachers, learning more about the history and operation of the secondary school. Betsy is teaching Middle School Bible and is getting to know her 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. Being asked to help with a small group during the Middle School Youth Group time has been an added blessing in that regard! She’s also collaborating with Lower School Chapels each week, Mondays with Grades K-2 and Wednesdays with Grades 3-5.

Yes, this month has been one of learning. We are learning again to study and appreciate a new culture. We are learning to adapt to the busy, noisy life of a big city. We are learning to treasure FaceTime moments with our children and granddaughter across 5,000 miles and a 6-hour time difference. We are learning to accept the feelings of humility and incompetence that come from not being able to communicate the simplest phrases when a neighbor invites us over for a snack. We are learning that each staff member and each student at our school has a unique and fascinating story reflecting the working of God’s grace and love. But most of all, we are learning to depend fully on Jesus each day, realizing anew how much we need His wisdom and His strength to enter fully into the place He has called us to. In joyful obedience to His call to this place, we pray: “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.” (Psalm 119:66) May we be a winsome witness to the love of Christ each day and to every person we encounter.

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It’s Almost Time!

We are on our way! We will be traveling to Tirana, Albania, leaving Atlanta on Thursday, August 24. It’s hard to believe the time has already arrived. But God has proved Himself so faithful – and we are incredibly thankful for each of you who has felt led to partner with us through financial support and through your prayers.

These last few weeks have been a whirlwind! An international move involves quite a bit of preparation (not that we ever start early enough!). Our checklist this summer has included such things as:

  • Sort, organize and pack all our household belongings for storage.
  • Schedule physicals with our family doctor.
  • Find a loving home for our cat.
  • Forward mail to family members.
  • Upgrade and unlock our phones for international usage.
  • Buy things we know we’ll need for our new home in Tirana and can fit in six suitcases.
  • Make sure our three children have any important documents they might need for the year.
  • Close out accounts and utility bills.
  • Prepare for classes and ministry at GDQ International Christian School.
  • Spend as much time as possible with our family before leaving.

We are excited and looking forward to all God has in store for us in Albania, though it also feels like a daunting challenge. As we go, we are leaning hard into Jesus for needed strength, grace and wisdom for life and ministry in a new place. Thank you for going with us!

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An Unexpected Journey

Not long ago we asked for your prayers for clear vision and direction. Thank you for praying! Your prayers, and ours, have been answered. God is leading us to Albania!

Jesus has provided an exciting opportunity for us to serve at the GDQ International Christian School in Tirana, Albania. Len will put his almost-completed Masters of Education to use through administrative duties as Middle School/High School Principal. Betsy will step into teaching Middle School Bible classes and will also coordinate Lower School Chapels.

GDQ  was founded in the fall of 1993 to support the efforts of the evangelical Protestant missionary community in Albania by providing a Christ-centered, academically enriching international education. Currently, about 75% of the student body are the children of missionaries serving in Albania and the remainder represent expatriates involved in the international business sector. Students and staff represent more than fifteen different mission sending organizations and come from Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America. The vision of the school is to instill in students a God-honoring Christian worldview so they might have maximum influence for the glory of God in and through their lives.

Albania itself borders the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. A long and complex history, including centuries under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, ended with Albanian independence in 1912. Following World War II, Albania emerged under communist rule that lasted until the 1990s. During those years, Albania was declared an atheist state and all centers of worship were closed. Today, Albania and its population of 3 million boasts freedom of worship, with fifty-seven percent of the population identifying as Muslim and the remainder as primarily Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or nonreligious/undeclared. Evangelical Protestant Christians make up less than 1% of the population. Ministry at GDQ International Christian School  will allow us the great privilege of joining in the efforts of those bringing the Good News of Jesus to the people of Albania.

Please continue to pray for guidance at each step, for God’s’ abundant provision, and for our hearts to be open to all He has in store for our future as we follow His call to Albania.

If you want to partner with us on this journey by providing financial support, through either a one-time donation or ongoing support, please visit one of the links below. We can’t do this without you!

Len and Betsy Phillips at World Gospel Mission

Len and Betsy Phillips at TMS-Global (missionary ID #0514)

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Praying for Clear Vision

When’s the last time you had your eyes checked? Personally, I’ve tried to be diligent about a yearly eye exam, even though that’s meant I’ve had to reluctantly accept the inevitable. First it was reading glasses. Now it’s glasses fulltime. Every year the prescription seems to get a little bit stronger. Though I would prefer to turn back the clock and return to my pre-glasses days, I am honestly grateful to have decent vision. Every morning I put on my silver-framed lenses (which coincidentally now also match my hair color) and suddenly the world around me becomes much more clear and focused. img_1552-2

How I wish there were lenses that allowed me to see God’s plan as clearly as I can now read the instructions on my bottle of multivitamins!

Since returning to the United States in June 2013, Len and I have continually sought to discern God’s vision for our ministry. We had perceived His hand leading Len to study for a Masters of Education (with an emphasis in Administration) and we sensed that these years were a season to stay in the United States. God led us clearly to a new ministry serving as resources in educational ministries, on Special Assignment through World Gospel Mission to serve with the Global Resource Team of The Mission Society, now TMS-Global (see note below). We’ve been eyewitnesses to how faithfully God opened doors for ministry here and internationally and to how faithfully He has continued to provide through a team of many who pray and give sacrificially that we may serve.

Now we are again in a period of seeking; seeking God’s vision for what is next. In consultation with both our mission agencies, we are actively exploring opportunities for a return to international cross-cultural ministry. As we do so, we pray for clear vision. We pray not only for clarity to see the path God would have us take but also for a growing vision for all He has in store for us.

Won’t you pray with us? Pray that the Lord makes our way clear. Pray that we will discern His guidance. Pray that we will walk by faith, trusting for His provision as we take these next steps. It’s clear to us that your partnership makes a difference in our lives and ministry!

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Late October 2016 found us traveling to McAllen, Texas where World Gospel Mission has been in ministry since the 1940’s.  Len shared a devotional with teachers and staff at Taylor Christian School and Betsy led chapels with this year’s students. We observed, discussed and listened with the goal of encouraging, resourcing and strategizing with those serving in educational endeavors. We also learned more about the ministries of Taylor Community Center and the soccer program outreach. As we met with several of the missionaries serving on the border, we sensed their heart and vision for impacting the surrounding community for Christ.

It was also a few days of joyful reunion! Several of the missionaries currently serving in McAllen had previously served in Bolivia. One evening during our visit we all shared a Bolivian meal complete with fantastic grilled meats, fried yucca and linaza (a flax seed drink). We also spent time with Miguel and Vivian Rodriguez, longtime friends from our years in Honduras, who are now pastoring a church in McAllen. God was so good to allow us to renew such precious friendships!

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Miles and Ministry in Mexico

Mexico! It’s a relatively short flight from Atlanta to Monterrey, but we still put in our share of miles (or rather, kilometers) traveled during our eight-day trip.

Mark and Serena Dunbar picked us up at the airport and drove us back to their home in Saltillo – and what a home it is! The aptly-named “WOW” house is a beautiful and spacious ministry center God provided for the work in northern Mexico. While we were there, the center was used to host a visiting work team from Iowa as well as to host a theological education by extension class. It’s a blessing under a red-tiled roof! (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo!) Saltillo itself is a beautiful and modern city, as you can see from the above photos.

The day after we arrived, we, along with the Dunbars and their summer VIA (Volunteer in Action), Brianna, climbed into their car to head south. The highway infrastructure is impressive, as are the rest stops offering Papa John’s, Subway, Church’s Chicken and delicious typical Mexican fare. Lots of tollbooths though!

Our first stop was at a church pastored by Dany and Carminda Pineda. The Pinedas were students at the El Sembrador Bible Institute in Honduras when Len served as Director and Betsy taught classes. After graduation, they ended up pastoring the church in La Esperanza, Honduras, which we attended. For the last number of years, they have been ministering as missionaries in Mexico. What a joy to see how God has blessed them, along with their two sons, with a fruitful and growing ministry in Queretaro!

Our next stop was Irapuato (self-proclaimed strawberry capital of the world), where we ran in to Dennis and Twana Johnson, who had brought three of their grandchildren to see where they had lived and worked for several years. We caught up over a lunch of delicious taquitos!

That evening we were part of a meeting of church members from Irapuato and Leon who are interested in starting a Christian school. Len led them through some thought-provoking questions on vision, mission, goals, and finances. We will be excited to see how God helps them realize their dreams!

We made our way back up north to Saltillo on Tuesday, a trip made a bit longer due to some unexpected tire problems. But we made it back in time to shop and prepare for the arrival of the work team on Thursday. Friday was an excursion day that led us to beautiful waterfalls and through some incredible canyons.

On Saturday, Betsy taught a course on “The Christian Family” to students in the theological education program in northern Mexico. These men and women commit to a three-year course of study, taking ten classes each year, in order to prepare for ministry. Len also taught during the day, leading our devotional time and covering part of the material. We were impressed by the thoughtful discussion and exemplary presentations and projects each student provided.

We are thankful for open doors for ministry God provides while serving as Professional Resource Consultants with The Mission Society (on Special Assignment from World Gospel Mission). Who knows where He will lead next?



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Life in the Kingdom. It’s Elementary.

Not long ago, I traveled back to Bolivia. This was the third year in a row I was asked to lead the Elementary Spiritual Emphasis Week at the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center. Apparently they aren’t tired of me yet! The Lord blessed with a wonderful week of teaching, praise, friends, food, and prayer. I’m pretty sure the students enjoyed it too! 🙂

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This year our theme was Life in the Kingdom. Monday saw us Meet the King, learn how a monarchy operates, and discover how our King is distinct from earthly kings. When a young volunteer was asked what he would do if he were king of SCCLC, he replied, “I would make less homework, keep everyone safe from robbers, and add a swimming pool!”

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Tuesday’s lesson was on the Keys to the Kingdom: repent and believe the good news. In this chapel we looked more closely at John 3:16 and Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Wednesday found us studying parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 13. We talked about the “now and not yet” aspects of the Kingdom and How to Live a Kingdom Life today. Our takeaways were to: 1) Love the King, 2) Obey the King, and 3) Plant Seeds for the Kingdom. Each student then took a “seed” and wrote how they could plant seeds for the Kingdom each day at school. Some thoughtful responses are shown below:

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We studied Ephesians 6 and the Kingdom at War/Stand your Ground on Thursday. It was a chaotic and noisy chapel with plenty of visuals and volunteers to illustrate how to defend the Kingdom! Friday was a calmer as we discovered how to be Ambassadors for the Kingdom. I read the students a book, The Topsy Turvy Kingdom by Dottie and Josh McDowell, with the pages projected up on the screen. The story shows what can happen when we forget to live by Kingdom principles and how it takes courage to be the one to stand and remember those principles.

Preparing for these lessons provided timely reminders for me as well. As we endure another election cycle here in the USA, keeping a Kingdom-centered perspective is especially needed. I needed to be reminded that God, our sovereign King, is still on the throne. As subjects of His Kingdom, we must learn to live in the balance of the “now and not yet”, standing our ground against the forces at work in this age while serving as faithful representatives of a good, just, loving and merciful King. It’s elementary, after all.

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