Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Albania Mission Trip: All the Earth Will Shout His Praise

By many accounts, the time leading up to the Albania mission trip and the time immediately following were/are disastrous. Logistics fell apart, finances didn’t add up, and illness plagued several. In the midst of my own illness and financial problems, and the general business of life that seemed to not allow for significant preparation, I was told there would be a verse or short passage that would sustain me in the final days before we left.
The group and missionaries with children at a village

The next day, I found this:

I am convinced that any suffering we endure is less than nothing compared to the magnitude of glory that is about to be unveiled within us. –Romans 8:18

All the suffering and groaning of creation is real, and painful, and confusing, but God was going to show up, and the problems we faced along the way would pale in comparison.

The night of our last meeting, I had what seemed to be the flu and a depleted bank account from rent and flight payments. But a week later, I spoke to Dustin & Gabi about what had occurred since that night. After people prayed over me, the second day of the flu was better than the first. By the third day, it was gone. This would usually take me at least a week to overcome. I continually found sources of money I didn’t realize I had to sustain me: extra cash I’d brought from Columbus, extra money in my PayPal account, Kroger gift cards, even being randomly handed cash. And I recognized God’s faithfulness to me in light of my last semester. This spring was the biggest class load I’d ever taken. I felt strongly, though, that the most important thing was to walk in what God had for me. That meant taking weekends away, going on a mission trip over spring break, and staying involved in ministries throughout the week. In the end, I did far and away the best I’d ever done in law school despite taking so much time away from studying. It doesn’t add up apart from Him.
Soviet bunker on the Adriatic Sea

For those of us coming back to the U.S. afterwards, we continued to face problems. In the Tirana airport, with all of us on a 50-hour run with three hours of sleep, Nathan became sick and he and Ben almost missed the flight. We had to go through security and customs in both Italian airports even though they were only layovers. I became sick in Florence, Italy, and have only hazy memories of our layover there. We almost missed both those flights. In Philadelphia, we had hours of delays that culminated in a flight cancellation. This caused me to miss work on Monday. When we returned to Northern Kentucky on Monday night after midnight, Seanna’s car was missing. She and I were up until three a.m. trying to track it down. I awoke Tuesday morning with a horrible illness that prevented me from leaving the house, something illness rarely does, and missed another day of work. This illness continues even as I write.

Service with a Roma group
But in the midst of the madness, we can choose to view our problems through the lens of God, or God through the lens of our problems. We choose to alter our perception of our problems because of God rather than alter our perception of God because of our problems. He is faithful, and good, and we know His heart for us. Our prayer for favor in the line for Nathan and Ben in Tirana and delays on the plane were granted, and we all left Tirana together. We were given favor in the Italian airports with workers there to specifically make sure we got through on time. Our flight cancellation gave seven of us another day together to explore Philadelphia, and Seanna a chance to see her sister who lives nearby. Even today God continues to provide for us.

What Hell meant to break us has failed and will continue to fail. We declare God’s faithfulness over our situations, even when they aren’t what we want and even when we don’t understand them. Even now not all of these problems have solutions, but God’s track record tells us He won’t fail us now. No suffering takes away from what He has done.

Art outreach on the city square
The trip to Albania was actually my thirteenth mission trip. I’ve had the opportunity to go to Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, D.C., Virginia, and California. But Albania was my first international mission trip. I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity, especially with this group and with evangelism as the goal. So many fun memories with the people there, from exploring the coast of the Adriatic Sea to visiting Sophie’s coffee shop to games we made up and played throughout the week. The makeup of the group was no accident, and the ten of us worked with some awesome missionaries and Albanians along the way. Across the world felt like home because my family was there.

Service at a village
Our work in Albania took on one of two forms. The first was evangelism and relationship building, which were planned mostly by us, and the second was helping existing ministries and missionaries. Our concern over the language barrier was alleviated, as it rarely interfered with what we did. We were brought to English-speaker after English-speaker in Tirana, mostly students close to our age. Our first outreach in the city square led my group to three high school students with the opportunity to explain the gospel and pray over them. Our last one led me to someone close to my age, explaining that there is a personal God who loves us and wants to have a relationship with us, a truth that is sometimes lost on a majority-Muslim country. Even outside of official evangelism time, we had appointments to do the same.

Perhaps my favorite evangelistic outreach was our art outreach. I have no traditional artistic ability in the slightest, but many in our group did, and we saw that as no coincidence. Set up in the city square, people flocked to us. Everyone there had stories of people they were able to talk to. One of my favorite attributes of this group is the ability to attract people wherever we go. We are known by our love for each other and for others.

Kids service for the Roma
So many awesome relationships were formed that night. We genuinely cared for the people we met, and they wanted to get to know us. Our goal in being out was to share the gospel, but it flowed naturally in the course of our conversation with people—conversation about school, dreams, experiences, fears, hobbies, and friends. I talked to Ani for a solid two hours that night. She shared her desires for university, her wading through finals, her hopes of moving abroad, and her ways of coping with the stress of school. I sympathized with her on many of those things. We talked about our experiences in our respective countries. And I shared with her that a personal God who loves her so deeply came to Earth to face the punishment for our wrongdoing so that we could have life.

The work with existing ministries was particularly humbling. Throughout the week we were continually introduced to missionaries who have sacrificed to follow the call of God wherever He had them go. It showed us the value of community. It demonstrated the purpose for faith. And above all, it continued to remind us that God does not show partiality. A group of Americans standing in the villages and outcast Roma communities of one of the poorest countries in Europe never had the slightest thought that we were better than. The love of God extends to all of us. We all begin under condemnation and are all offered grace. We need the cross as much as anyone. The same Spirit living in us lives in the Albanian believers. Sin makes us all equally hopeless and the cross and resurrection makes us all equally children.

That might be the biggest takeaway from the trip. The beautiful symphony of voices in multiple languages lifting up the name of Jesus is the embodiment of Heaven. All the Earth will shout His praise. All share the same Father, every tribe and nation adopted into the same family. Every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. The love of God spans all borders and social classes, and we’re all in desperate need of Him. This trip constantly reminded us of that.