You may be surprised....
There's quite a bit to do before boarding our plane to Albania.
NOTE TO THE READER: this is a long post and will probably be the longest of the entire trip, but each trip takes months if not years to prepare for while they only last a few weeks at most. Needless to say, there's a lot to share. But it's worth the read :)
I can't speak for other churches, but at Johnson Ferry, a lot of time, effort, prayer, energy, and thought goes into each trip: from the initial logistics, the monetary considerations, connecting with host organizations/teams, choosing trip leaders, equipping the teams, and so much more. Every mission trip is poured over with so much care and love. Our teams are never just "sent out."
I think it's important to understand at least a little of what we've experienced leading up to this trip to Albania in order to fully grasp what this opportunity means to us and how far we're willing to go to follow God's calling for each of us.
Many criticisms out there about mission trips focus on how these trips are really just trips of leisure, that those who go (or most of them) are just looking for a reason to travel and see new places that will also make them feel good about themselves because they're "helping others in need." Critics also comment on how once the teams leave an area, the people they work with/support are practically forgotten as they head back to their lives of luxury. I hope you can clearly see through all of our preparations and the trip itself that for us, this is so far from the truth!
So how did we prepare?
Team Meetings/Planning Sessions
Part of the requirements for each mission trip team member is to attend multiple team meetings where our leaders will give us more details about what we'll be doing in-country, we go over logistics, we get to know each other, share testimonies, determine team core values, and so much more! These meetings are vital to the success of our trip and the bond of our team.
Becusee we're going to Albania to teach an English camp, team members will also spend a lot of time outside of these meetings getting together and also individually putting together their lesson plans. A lot was so wonderfully coordinated in previous years, but we have tried to adapt and adjust each year as new teaching styles are introduced and as our hosts request different things from us and our classes. Above all we stay flexible.
Our last team meeting was a classroom materials packing session. Everyone got together to put the finishing touches on a few supplies, pack everything into designated ministry suitcases, and to ensure we weren't going to go over the weight limit for each suitcase.
Now you're probably wondering where the guys are and what they were doing while the women put classrooms stuff together...
Our leaders spend a lot of time prepping for these team meetings, and we in-turn dedicate time to attend and contribute in all facets of the trip. It's a joint effort and a labor of love! It would be impossible to do a trip like this without our meetings.
None of us just decided, hey, I wanna go to Albania, and look, here's a trip with the church going there and signed up on the dot. Each of us spent a lot of time praying about this trip before applying to go. A mission trip is not something you dedicate yourself to lightly. It really is important to seek God's guidance and counsel.
Likewise, we as a group have spent a lot of time collectively and individual praying over the trip: the team members, our host team, the students we'll be interacting with, the Albanian people, Albania the country, our lesson plans, our safety and health, and SO much more! We also have many friends and family members across the country and world praying for this trip as well. We have each felt the love and support of our church, family, and friends as we embark on this journey God has placed before us.
Along with prayer, each team member dedicated at least one day to prayer and fasting for the trip, spending a day focused on this trip in a God-centered way.
One week before the trip, as many team member that could all attended JFBC's monthly Night of Hope. It's a great way for people seeking prayer to come and be prayed over for any need/request. We had time of worship where various prayer warriors would come alongside us and pray over us, then we went as a team and had our own separate time of prayer with a designated intercessor and then had communion as a group. This was such a comfort and really brought so much peace for the upcoming trip.
It all starts and ends with prayer.
It is certainly true that every trip undertaken in the world of Missions has a two-part purpose. The first is the "what we'll be doing." That could be anything from building homes/churches, digging wells, caring for the elderly/children, planting gardens, or like us, teaching English. There are so many needs around the world and especially right here in America. Missions can look like so many things. But that's just how we get somewhere, how we are able to begin connecting with the people. The second part, and most-important, is sharing the gospel.
Mark 16:15 And He [Jesus] said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation."
Now we're not all pastors, and we haven't all been to seminary, but no one ever said you had to receive a formal education to express the Truth of who God is and what He has done for us, through Jesus' death on the cross. Just look at the disciples, all ordinary men of their day. Several were fishermen, one was a political zealot, and one was even a tax collector! None of them were theologians. They were prone to mistakes and more. Ultimately, they were remarkably unremarkable- just like us.
But just because we don't have to have a theological degree to go proclaim the Good News, we also don't want to unnecessarily offend the people we are ministering to, and we want to make sure we're using terms/phrases that are Universal, not "American." So the church has us attend an evangelism training course (which you must complete at least once a year to participate in mission trips with the church).
The big thing with this course is encouraging those that are not as comfortable with evangelism, that it's not as scary as it may seem. We're not expected to give a sermon (no one would want us to anyway). It's all about listening to their story, then simply telling yours, and keeping it short/sweet.
2 minutes. That's all the time they allow for us to share our testimonies (and they do have us practice). I know my eyes bugged out when I heard that. But that's truly all you need: 1. My life before /without Christ, 2. The turning point, 3. My life with Christ. The idea is not to bombard someone with the entire bible and every theological fact known to man, but simply to share how God has impacted/changed your life. Hopefully, that story will make the person you're talking with inquisitive enough to ask more, but if nothing else, you've planted a seed.
Along with the evangelism training, the church makes sure we've been educated on best-practices for travel (both domestically and abroad). Safety is very important to us and the church, so they do their best to ensure we have many tools at our disposal that will make us educated travelers.
Working/Collaborating with our Hosts
We have been blessed with leaders who have gone to Albania multiple times to teach at the English Camp CRU hosts in the summer for students. They have a great relationship with our hosts and have a great understand of the needs leading up to our departure as well as what to expect when we're there. The big thing communicated to us is to remain flexible. We've certainly already found a need to do just that as we've been asked (less than one week before leaving) to have 5 classes for camp instead of the originally anticipated 4. We're not worried about the change, but it's going to require some last-minute reconfiguring on our leaders' parts, and we try and encourage/help them as best we can as they make these decisions.
Not only are the leaders able to email, Facebook message, and occasionally Skype with our hosts, but one couple from Albania was even able to visit for 5 weeks this summer as they sought support for the move to Macedonia God has placed on their hearts which will take place in August.
It was such a blessing to have Anila and ZamIr visit (sadly they had to leave Abiel with Anilia's mother back in Albania). For those on the team who haven't been to Albania before and worked with CRU, it gave them familiar faces to look forward to when we visit and gave them a peace of mind that they will be able to connect with the Albanian people because they are indeed people, just like us. It was also great to get a chance to use them as a sounding board for game/activity ideas for camp. Anila quickly bonded with Kimberly about the Cup Game.
The first thing we were ever told about learning/speaking Albanian was to remember the phrase, "Fall in the dirt." If you can say that really fast, you can basically say thank you. Faleminderit.
Even though we will have translators the entire time we're in Albania, it's always a nice touch to the culture you're entering to at least attempt to learn a bit of their language, especially as we're coming to teach our own. Plus, the ridiculousness of the whole situation where we attempt to say words in Albanian is a great ice breaker in the classroom.
Not only is it helpful to learn some of the language (there's an app for that!) but it is also helpful if you understand that when they nod their heads up and down, they are expressing a "no" where we'd be expressing "yes" and left to right with your head is also the opposite there. That means "yes." Plenty of ways to become confused/misunderstood. But that's all part of the adventure!!
I hope you've quickly come to realize just how much thought, energy, time, planning, and prayer has gone into this trip. It's not something I say to draw attention to us or our accomplishments/abilities but just to bring awareness to how a mission trip works, that it's not just a trip of leisure with volunteer work thrown in. It's a calling and a challenge. It's God's desire for us.
We all feel called to Albania and are so excited to see how God uses us in Albania and how He uses this trip, those we meet, and our team members in our lives from here on out. Thank you all for your support and prayers. We cannot begin to express our appreciation.
Congrats! You've finished reading this post.
And here's your reward:
I told you it'd be worth the read didn't I??