It’s a strange feeling knowing that you’ve fulfilled all your duties on an overseas trip. On the one hand, it’s a little anti-climactic; five days is a short trip in comparison to the last two years and there is so much more to see and do. On the other hand, it’s very exciting. Our objectives were completed, leaving us free to do as we wished.
We decided that we’d make the best use of the opportunity by meeting with the youth in Librazhd. We’ve visited the town on two separate occasions to perform concerts, but yesterday was the first time we’d visited simply to look around and spend time with a the young people that have faithfully attended all three of the youth camps we have run in Albania over the years.
The journey there was, as all the others have been on this trip, spectacular. I’m risking my limited internet usage by uploading these pictures…I’ll be facing a huge phone bill at the end of the month, but you simply have to see what we saw:
(There was something not right about seeing snow in the distance when the temperature was 30 degrees!)
Once we arrived in Librazhd, we had a fantastic time. Predominantly girls, the young people in the town have some incredible stories. Liam later told me that one seventeen-year-old girl ran an Alpha course and saw seven of her friends saved. Others started youth work and children’s work and they have seen their youth group in particular grow dramatically over the last few years. The circumstances surrounding their determination for education is astounding. Nerila (aged 19), translated for us during our concert last year and is currently at university in Tirana studying physiotherapy. Her father has to work in Greece to provide for his family as jobs are scarce in Librazhd. Whilst Nerila and her sister are at university, her mother looks after her eleven and eighteen year old brothers – the latter has quite severe special needs. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Nerila and many of the other girls have to contend with huge amounts of corruption in the education system (you can succeed easily if you are willing to pay), as well as looking for a part time job during her studies to provide for her family. Through all of this, she is transforming her church and her town. I felt extremely humbled.
Many of the girls’ stories were similar and whilst it was sad hearing them, they were remarkably upbeat about their situation. They were simply doing the best they could with what they had…a common theme this week. I was particularly impressed with the cross-culture banter (we got absolutely slaughtered for our English weather, and rightly so too!). When we had finished in Librazhd we returned to Elbasan to have dinner with ‘big’ Ilir’s family. It’s such lovely feeling to have people we genuinely call friends all over the country here.
The food was incredible. The family was amazing. I ate too much (as usual) and then we spent a few hours talking away about all sorts of things and Liam and I played a number of board games with the children. Children are great fun regardless of nationality, especially as you don’t need to do anymore than point, pull faces and generally lose whatever game you’re playing. I think we were just as entertained as they were, although I really tried hard at ‘pairs’ and still got thrashed…by a nine year old girl!
Bloated, satisfied and exhausted, we found our way (very slowly) back to the apartment and packed for today, our last day. At some point we’ll be catching up with our friends in Tirana to make the most of our time here, I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to being home, but I’ve enjoyed this trip more than any other to date. We’re forging genuine, honest friendships with people after four visits. It’s no longer about ministering in some way and then heading home to continue with life as if nothing happened. I really do care about these people and the churches they are building. What they do with their resources and the calling that God has placed in them is truly inspirational. I can’t wait to be back here in July. But wait…what am I talking about?! We’ve still got twelve hours in this beautiful place! No time to lose!