Albania Mission Trip Juliana Patselas - Summer 2016

Mission Training

Orthodox Christian Mission Center headquarters, St. Augustine, FL

Over two days, we met the friendly OCMC staff, received training, and attended the local Orthodox church for a commissioning service. Then we were on our way!

Arriving in Albania

Our team leader, Pamela Barksdale, drove us from the Tirana airport to the small village of Shën Vlash.

Inside Shën Vlash, there is a theological academy, monastery, church, and orphanage. The orphanage is called the "Home of Hope." It was started by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania.

"Kamp"

The long-term Albanian missionaries had a vision of creating a Christian summer "kamp" that would combine the orphans at the Home of Hope with affluent children from Albania's capital. With a lot of prayer, flexibility, and help from local Albanian teachers, we were able to minister a five-day camp to 150 youth.

A huge thunderstorm on the first day could not dampen the kids' excitement for "kamp." We had to wake up very early and take an hour bus ride to get to Tirana. The camp was held at an Orthodox Albanian-American school which is directed by long-term missionary Georgia Bendo. Once the kids arrived, we sang songs and read the daily lesson in the small chapel.

"The Kingdom of God"

The theme of kamp was God's Kingdom. We had to work hard to make the lessons teachable to both Christian and Muslim children. Each day, we focused on one parable from Matthew with a small group discussion followed by activities related to the parable. My group had fun drawing "The Kingdom of God" together after a lesson.

Art Class

I was assisted by a translator and a staff member from the Home of Hope, but the missionaries were on their own to come up with lesson plans and supplies. Each missionary led a different class. I was in charge of art for the little kids ages 5-9.

Planting Seeds

Although we had many emergencies - such as an exploding toilet, an almost-broken nose, extreme heat, and an unexpected dislike of burritos by the Albanians - the camp sowed many seeds of love, joy, and fun memories.
On the last day, the kids cheered for the directors. They seemed to only remember the positives of the week, and wanted to come back next year. Some of the kids from the Home of Hope had tears in their eyes because they would not see their new friends from Tirana again, unless the same camp is held in the future. Each child received an Albanian bible.

Fun at the Home of Hope

A Visit from the Bishop

Unfortunately, we weren't able to meet the Archbishop because he was at the Orthodox Council in Crete. But the Albanian bishop Asti visited the Home of Hope. With a long-term missionary translating, he told us about the history of the Albanian church. And of course, a visit from the bishop means the kids get to dance and eat ice cream!

These posters in the theological academy are a reminder of over 50 years of extreme religious oppression during communism. The revival of the church in the past 15 years is truly a miracle.

Landscapes

Traveling from Shën Vlash to Tirana, we were able to see some different sides of Albania. The geography is very beautiful, but so many of the people are very poor. Often, concrete house frames are abandoned until the owner has enough money from working in another country to finish building. Roads are not very developed, which results in crazy driving and huge traffic jams.

Sight-Seeing Adventures

Staff Dinner

All the volunteers from the "kamp" went out to eat together. For once, we weren't strategically seated next to translators, and the missionaries and Albanians had to figure out how to communicate. We found out that a lot can be said with simple words, smiles, and an iPhone camera roll.

Resurrection of Christ Cathedral

Visiting the Cathedral in Tirana was breathtaking. The size of the church is incomparable to our churches in the USA. A prestigious Byzantine men's choir was chanting in Albanian - a unique and powerful new sound for me. Many of the clergy were in Crete, but on a typical Sunday the church would be filled to capacity, and there would be a stampede for communion.

Returning Home

Although I've returned to the United States, part of my heart will stay in Albania forever. A huge part of my faith is because of the love and kindness that I witnessed in that country. And I was only there for a few weeks. This is just the beginning - our work has just begun. It takes years to even begin to understand Albanian culture and language, and more years after that to build relationships. Only then can we possibly make disciples of all nations. Long-term missionaries, not short-term teams like mine, are undertaking this huge task. There are only 12 Orthodox missionaries in Albania. The best way to make a difference in missions in Albania is to financially support one of these long-term missionaries. Not just once, but every year. If they can depend on our support, they won't have to worry about not being able to return and continue Christ's love if they can't meet their fundraising goals. Find out more at: http://www.ocmc.org/

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