Sorry that it has taken so long to send a second post, but our team has been going in so many different directions, that it has been hard to collect everyone's stories. So, grab a cup of coffee (an Albanian requirement for sitting down with a friend) and catch up with us if you're so inclined.
I'll start with our youngest team members, Ben and Shannon Jones. They have impacted so many already, that I may only be scratching the surface. Certainly, by the time this is sent, they will have more to tell.
I will start with Ben going to dinner two nights ago with two of the Cru staff and a non-believer named Agron Zefi. Long story short... after three hours and a journey through Scripture... Ben led Afron to saving faith in Jesus Christ! Halleluiah!
Last night, Ben went with another group to dinner and shared the Gospel with someone who had never heard. There wasn't a profession of faith, but this young man seemed surprised by the new revelation he'd been given. The wonderful thing about this method of evangelizing is that the Americans (like monkeys at the zoo) draw the lost in, and the Cru staff are faithful to follow up with discipleship for new believers and further discussion of the Gospel for those who need more time.
Yesterday morning, Shannon and Ben were able to meet up with missionary friends, Nathan and Cydil Waggoner, and their two children (adopted from Albania), Ellie and Reni. They run a community center in a small town outside of Tirana. Please pray for them, as resistance to the Gospel seems to be on the increase. Cydil said it wasn't too serious... just chickens with their heads cut off left in their front yard. Really?
Going back... On day one, we were taking a walking tour of the city of Tirana and stopped by the pyramid built by former communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, to honor himself (pride issue...ya think?). Anyway, as Avni gave us a little history, Ben was itching to climb the pyramid. Daddy Kevin told him that we didn't have time, and Ben pouted just a bit. Well, yesterday, Ben and Shannon had a little time to kill, so they found themselves, once again, in front of the pyramid. Like a child, Ben ran up the side and was chased by a young man who also had nothing better to do that afternoon than climb a monument. He was a Muslim... kind of... His ideology is simply that everyone should LOVE one another. Therefore, he loves Allah and Jesus and seemingly anyone else who wants a relationship with him.
Looking toward the base of the pyramid, Ben saw Shannon talking to another Albanian and pointed her out to his new friend. He told Ben that it would be okay for him to fight this man because he should not be approaching his wife in that way. Having not worked out for several days, Ben chose instead to descend the concrete mountain and introduce himself. Upon doing so, he discovered that Elvis is alive and well and living in Albania. It's TRUE! Albanian Elvis is a poet with a large family and no job. After reciting some LOVE poetry to Shannon, she and Ben took him to a store and bought some groceries for him to take home to his family. How about that for true LOVE?
Yes, we have other people on the team besides Ben and Shannon. I'll share a few hi-lights...
1. Preston went to dinner with a group last night. It included some of the Cru staff and a girl who they had been sharing with for quite a while. After recounting the Gospel story, the young girl admitted that she doesn't want a relationship with Jesus because there are things that she likes that she doesn't want to give up. Supernaturally, God gave Preston the "Toothpaste Analogy", which I will paraphrase. He asked the young lady if she brushes her teeth. She told him that she does. He asked her why. She said to make them clean. He explained that once we start brushing our teeth, we never stop. We like the way it feels to have a fresh mouth. We no longer can stand the way it feels when our teeth are dirty. "That is the way it is with a relationship with Jesus." Preston said. "Once you have Him in your life, you like the way it feels so much that you no longer desire the bad things that previously gave you pleasure." SHE GOT SAVED! Halleluiah!
2. On another note... Bob has just been promoted from Ken Boa's caddy to his American handler. He is second only to Avni, the Albanian handler, only because he doesn't have cool, dark sunglasses. Carol, you'll need to see that he buys some when he gets home, or the job may be revoked.
3. Coke executive, Michelle Smith, had the privilege of going with Bob and Avni to Ken's speaking engagements yesterday. I don't have all the details, but I know she ate LOTS of good food (the kind where they serve lemon sorbet between courses to cleanse the pallet) with LOTS of "important" Albanians. In fact, she educated a lofty government official about tax laws and more effective ways to run his country. You go girl!
4. Emily was a rock star amongst the young female university students at game night last night. She's building relationships, gathering Facebook friends, and winning people over with her sincerely sweet personality. Albanians are super nice, but I'm pretty sure Emily has them beat!
5. Several of us went out in groups to the medical and engineering universities to invite students to a special event yesterday afternoon at Mosaic church and last night at the Cru office. It's truly amazing how open these people are to listen to what we have to say (monkeys at the zoo). During this process, Bruce (7-time missionary to Albania) took the time to share the Gospel with approximately 30 students. He's my hero! He and Kevin also walked down to the hotel that they stayed at in October and invited the front desk clerk, Xhulia (Julia), to come bring a new employee, Julia (Yoolia). They both came and had a great time. Kevin and I will meet again with her for dinner on Saturday. Kevin says he will share the Gospel with her again. Pray that this would be the time she decides to accept God's free gift of grace.
There were approximately 200 students set up in groups of 10. From the stage, we are instructed to play silly games with those in our group. When Xhulia and Julia joined Kevin's group, Jonita, a godly, young Christian, recognized Xhulia from her home town. They hugged and kissed, not knowing that the other had been living in Tirana. Now, even though Kevin will continue spurring Xhulia on, he knows that Jonita will be very intentional about encouraging her toward the Lord. What a mighty God we serve!
I can't leave game night without including Preston's AMAZING dance moves. We were told to write on a piece of paper something silly that we wanted the person to the right of us to do. Preston wrote that he wanted the girl on his right to do an traditional Albanian dance. Well, the twist was that we each had to do what was written on our own piece of paper.
6. Preston and Bob also had the privilege of being the second place prize to a soccer contest. The winners of the tournament got $200, while second place got to go to dinner with Americans. I'm pretty sure these young Muslims didn't expect that there's was an eternal prize, as the Gospel message was included in their winnings!
7. Kevin and I spent the night getting to know a precious girl named Orlanda (Orli), who I'm sure we will be friends with forevermore. Then, today, we took two young Psychology students to lunch, where I was able to share the difference between secular and Biblical counseling. Rea and Bora were so excited at the prospect of using God's Word as their primary source of counseling and have the desire to share these principles with the students in their university. How cool is that?
I also had the great privilege on Monday of teaching the women on the Cru staff about how to keep Christ in the center of our lives throughout all the seasons of life.
Kevin and I also shared the Gospel with a young man named Egert at Cru's day at the park. He has heard the message before but is not ready to make a decision. Kevin finished the conversation with Pascal's Wager, which seemed to make him think, and exchanged Facebook addresses. We will follow up with him as he allows.
Okay... I'm totally out of breath, and I'm sure you've long been out of coffee. So I will end by asking you to pray for all the relationships above and continued opportunities to form new relationships. Also pray that the seeds that have been planted will bear fruit in the coming days, months, and years. Pray against the influence of the ever-increasing Muslim presence. We were told that some women are even paid to wear scarves on their heads to make being Muslim seem more acceptable. Pray for Kevin as he continues to juggle a very busy and ever-changing schedule. Lastly, pray for Emily's voice. The consequences of being a rock star includes a lot of talking, and her voice seems to have had enough.
We love and appreciate each one of you and look forward to being back with you in a few, short days.
Bekime (Blessings) from the ALBANIAN TEAM!