Or better yet...Why Go Back?
Another year has gone by. Family situations have come up, job stress has ruled my life, drama in one form or another has made itself known, and other changes have happened.
Life goes on after returning from the mission field.
It's not all bad. Friends have been made, promotions have happened, babies have been born (not any of mine mind you), and joy has been felt.
Life goes on.
But so too do the lives of the people you've met, the people you served with, the people you didn't even realize were paying attention to what you were doing or saying. Their families have battled illness, struggled to find a job, faced the turmoil of family members who don't get along. They've loved, had kids, gotten married or maybe even divorced.
And just maybe they've come to the decision that their life that's going on around them isn't complete without the love of knowing God for who He is and understanding that He loved us so much He sent His son to die for our sins.
You may not see the fruits of your labor in this life, but every life won to Christ is a family member we get to keep for eternity.
If asked why I go on mission trips, there are so many answers I could give.
First and foremost, as believers, God calls us to go and spread the Word. Eternal life with our glorious creator is not something to horde and keep to ourselves. It is something to rejoice over and share with everyone!
As a Christian, you're a missionary. You don't have to "give up your life" and go to the wild jungles of a foreign country, preaching to everyone you meet.
There are plenty of non-believers right down the street!
A missionary is someone who tells non-believers about what God has done in your life so that they might see His love and the importance of believing in Him and living your life according to His will instead of our own.
So why go (back) to Albania?
I am so glad you asked!
We live in a culture where it is so difficult to share the gospel. So many people have preconceived notions of who a Christian is, who God is, and they've already decided before you open your mouth whether or not they are going to listen to you, argue with you, try to make an example of you, or just walk away.
It's hard to openly share your beliefs when you are ridiculed for offending others.
So for me, it's been extremely helpful for my own inadequacies with evangelism to go to a country that is so open and friendly and loving, where I can feel more secure in sharing the love of God without as much fear of rejection or hostility. That's not to say that you will do/say everything right with every person you meet and they will all make a decision for Christ (wouldn't that be nice?), but Albania is a great country to go to if you're looking to get your evangelical feet wet.
But wait - There's more!
Of course there's more! I mean, yes, the missions/evangelical side of "why" is a great reason for going back, but the country and its people are amazing in their own right!
Getting to work with the various staff members of CRU (Campus Crusades) was really a highlight of my time in-country. Each person was so friendly, welcoming, personable, and truly interested in my life and my story. They have been hard at work all year connecting with students, planning events, and sharing the gospel. Then they go and work with us at the week-long English Camp that we go to teach at. Each CRU staff member works as a translator/helper in our classes, they help plan evening activities, and then they come with us for one-on-one or small group opportunities to connect with the students outside of class. They are there as a translator and help step in if conversation gets deeper than we can handle on our own with the language barrier.
They do all of this and more with a smile on their faces and love in their hearts.
And that's just the staff!!
The students are also a joy. They have a great deal of respect for their elders (almost everyone on our teams is twice their age or more), and their desire to learn is almost overwhelming! We've learned a lot about what their normal school situation is like, with no positive reinforcement, encouragement, or really any fun in the classroom. They often are expected to bribe their teachers, and the opportunity for getting a job is so scarce that even attending university provides little to no hope for a "happy" future.
To see these students get so excited from the littlest thing we take for granted (like being encouraged for doing a great job or getting a sticker for answering a question) is one of the most humbling and wonderful experiences there is. And they are just so excited to tell you about their lives and are eager to learn about ours.
Without even trying, you are sure to return from Albania with more family members than you left with.
After stepping off the plane last summer, I had an overwhelming sense that I had arrived someplace that felt like home. For such a small country, there is still so much to see! There are cities and small towns, beaches, lakes, and mountains.
Due to Albania's location right near Greece and the Mediterranean, meals are inundated with fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and grilled meats. And if you enjoy coffee, Albania is definitely for you!
There are so many things that could be said, pictures to post, but why spoil the surprise? Take the leap and come experience Albania for yourself!
So why go back?
It's a combination of so many things:
- I loved the people and enjoyed working with the CRU staff
- I came to love the country and its sights/food
- I enjoyed the opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone when it came to sharing the gospel and appreciated that Albania is a country where the people are so open and the opportunities to share so numerous, that you really could let go of your insecurities about sharing God's love
- God has opened the door for me to return
- I want to continue building on the relationships formed last year
A criticism I so often hear about short-term mission trips is that people pick a destination location where they can have a glorified vacation that can be coupled with philanthropy or that the people going just go so that others can see the "good things" they're doing to help the less fortunate and then once they're back, they resume life as normal. That's not to say that doesn't happen, but that's definitely not what our trips are about. We continue to send groups back year after year, partnering with the same groups/people with the intent of supporting and growing the ministry that is already in place.
I knew, from the moment I signed up last year, that if the opportunity and funding to go presented itself, I would continue to go back. True ministry is not just a one and done kind of deal. It's the commitment to going and serving where you are called and to nurture the seeds you've planted.
This is a journey I've started, and I choose not to quit!
No matter what your fear, no matter what your excuse, just put your trust in God and go share His Truth. He will make a way for you to go (whether to another cubicle within your office, another city, another state, or another country), He will give you the courage you need, and He will give you the words to say.