Beyond the image, children.

Migration, Daily Mail and Missing the Point

Beyond the sensationalised images of adults and aggression are some shocking statistics that are the true story.  Last year alone 407 children and young people were recognised, caught, registered, however you would like to say, as migrants seeking safety and support.  The highest number of lone children, not from war or conflict but from families dreaming of something more.

The Northern village is typical, it is true, there is no work, there is a lack of hope, there is despair and there are families who just want more for their children and give money they don’t have, to people they don’t know in the search of  a dream.  Most of these children won’t be thugs, thieves or delinquents but very well may end up that way because of the systems in place.  Disappearing into anonymity, without a place to settle and belong to, fleeing the authorities they hoped would help them.  These children know that their parents have paid thousands that they don’t have because the expectation is they will earn some money and support the family in the future.  They can’t return because they know their families have less than nothing.  They can’t stay because they are not at risk, until they have to put themselves at risk through illegal links and relationships.

Albania is a country with outstanding beauty, most people are friendly, hospitable, open their homes and welcome you.  The number of meals we have shared where as guests we are the only ones eating because the families can’t afford to serve us and eat as well.  As you sit realising this sacrifice, the impossible challenge of thanking and respecting their kindness but eating their suffering and trying to find ways of sharing whilst honouring.  Having worked with Albanian children and young people their dreams are so often crushed by the corruption but not by their own abilities.  They have pride in their wonderful country but no hope.  They have skills for their wonderful country but no opportunities.  They have belonging to their wonderful country but no future.  This is the truth behind the images.

The challenge doesn’t have a simple solution, as with most immigration issues.  But the answer most definitely isn’t labelling with violent, drug addicted, thugs.  Challenging corrupt systems, supporting those who have found their way here and understanding the search for a dream should not end in a nightmare.


Being (A) Part

Two days ago marked 8 years since we left for Albania and 6 years since we opened Burime – the children & teen centre we set up on the Keneta.  When I shared this memory on Facebook I was almost instantly responded to by one of the ‘boys’ who came, saying

 I believe that not only my family but also for other children you 
will be like a special miss, you will always remain in our hearts and
minds as our people with love and we spent one of our most beautiful 
experiences... I wish to turn back time and you were with us

It was tough to leave, especially into unknown – what would happen to the kids we had invested our lives and hearts, what would happen to our little discipleship groups, what would happen to those children and families who had never felt noticed before we arrived.  Then for us what would we do, where would we live, how would we live?

Albania was God’s plan A for our family, its made life tough since we got back here (I don’t say home) and most people have no idea about the struggles each person faces, the tears that are cried and the hole in our hearts.  But we know too that this is God’s plan A for now, we have just bought our beautiful ‘home’, we have Lilijana, the kids are all doing well academically in school, Neil is on the degree course, I am loving my job tutoring and we work for our ‘sending’ church seeing the young people grow.

We have also really known that our link to Albania isn’t limited to facebook posts and instagram pictures but that God has given us an ongoing link, passion and opportunities to both support and accompany our friends and family there.

Rachel is one of those, she inspired us, worked with us, advised us and helped us in many ways and for the last two years Neil has been back at Kampi Aventura helping out.  Last year was incredible to take our kids to help, to see them having fun as kids but sharing God in their heart language.

So for this year, we dream to go again to Albania, to support the work there as well as what we feel is essential in maintaining our friendships with our neighbours.  We dream of being a part of the ongoing and developing work we see, to use what God has given us here to plant into there.  We would love for you to consider being a part too – can you sponsor a child or young person to go to camp (only £30)? Will you commit to praying for the camp or for a specific child at the camp?  Do you feel God calling you to join us as we go (financially, prayerfully or in person?) .

(At the moment we can’t afford to fly out and so are planning a road trip but can meet you at the airport and help with accommodation and details)


A Shoebox Full of Thanks

Three years ago, I wrote this blog.  Sitting here with my tree in my heated home, on a road made of tarmac, with no fear of the electricity cutting out or the lack of water it made me remember how much we have.  It made me remember how much difference a shoebox makes to many lives.  I remember giving out those boxes, snatching hands desperate to grab a box and rip it open, big eyes filled with wonder spreading down into the most beautiful smiles, peering eyes to see what their friend had in theirs.

So, if you have filled a shoebox and sent it away I wanted to thank you, it is not just some token thing that you do at Christmas.  It is not just a goodwill to calm your conscience.  It speaks of being important to someone in the world, it speaks of being cared for, possibilities and hopes and so from all the children who think they are forgotten and your gift has told them they matter, thank you.

Christmas day on the Keneta

Matilda at her Christmas show

Christmas day is very different year.  As the country was the first to declare itself “Atheist”, the governance may have changed but the traditions have not, so Christmas is not celebrated but instead the focus is on the New Year (Viti i Ri).  It makes things interesting, we don’t have a Christmas tree, we have a New Year tree.  We don’t have Christmas lights, we have New Year lights.  The workmen arrived to work on the drive at 8.15am unaware of the excited children inside who had been up for three hours and had long since scattered paper all over the lounge, scrambling to discover the wonder of the present inside.  Everyone goes about life just as normal and if you ask when Christmas is, some random guess is made, often getting December but no real idea on the date.  So Christmas is different.

We had the pure pleasure of going to the Christmas churches celebration where the Churches of Durres gathered together at the Sports Hall and worshipped the Saviour for whom the day is all about.  It was great to see over 500 people worshipping, reflecting and celebrating.

As we went back home two of the boys came over, intrigued by what we did on Christmas day.  Our kids wanted to get out their gifts to show them but we couldn’t let them.  Already our kids have so many more toys than anyone else… possibly than everyone else on the road combined!  By English standards they don’t have that much!!!!  So we let them get one thing out each to play with whilst their friends were there.  We had a great chat together about what we do at Christmas and why and asked them about their New Year traditions.  As part of this I asked when Babagjyshi comes (Santa Claus), they looked at each other and laughed.  “He doesn’t come here”.  I was suprised and said I thought he came at New Year with a gift, “no” they said “he doesn’t come here, he must have forgotten us.”  At that point my heart broke, whilst thanking God for the blessing (including material ones) that our family enjoys.

My dream this year is that we can find a way for Babagyshi to visit but more importantly that the real gift of Christmas, Jesus may be discovered amongst the celebrations.

The Amazing Offer – Buy Nothing


I remember last year being shocked by all the Black Friday stuff, that was when I lived overseas and the scale of the consumerism was sickening.  This year my place of living may have changed back to Britain but that sick feeling Black Friday phrase gives me has not.

I’ve never really understood how a day of Thanksgiving for all we have in our lives is then overshadowed by the need to go out and buy more, get more, possess more.  It makes me wonder about the sincerity of the thanks.

I cannot help but see the name of Black Friday as one of the truest- the darkness of greed. The negative feeling of despair from debt from wants, wants and more wants. The bleakness of images of people fighting not over a loaf of bread to feed their family or a sack of rice to sustain them but the latest, hugest, flatest screen or some other peripheral so needed in life you would fight for it.

But my Friday is not going to be Black, its going to be about light, hope, brightness.  I will be part of the Buy Nothing Friday and I will seek out ways to bring a blessing, be a blessing and celebrate again the thankfulness in my life for all I have.


School Prayers Answered

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 20.49.24

This is from the school website, his name is on the wall, written in the book.  The certificate added to his ‘achievement folder’. This was a very brief version of the incredible praise his teacher gave to him in front of the whole school – how amazing he is, how hard he has worked, how he does more than asked, what a great example he is, how fantastic his spelling, how great his attitude… she said she did not have enough words to praise him.

She didn’t need any more words.

Timmy has always tried his very best at school, he has faced massive challenges and kept on going, he has gone out of his way to try to make a positive difference and just been faced with criticism.  He has heard publicly several times a year how awful his writing is, how untidy he is, how he isn’t good enough.  Still he kept going, trying, pushing, being kind, being a light.  For four years his teacher was not nice, we had to report her physical punishments of children in the second year, we had to listen and try to show her positive love.  When we left, after four years I thanked her for teaching Timmy, for her input and ‘patience’.  She said… ‘safe journey’.  That was it, four years and no words of encouragement, best wishes, positive just ‘safe journey’.

My prayer has been that Timmy would be rewarded for all that he has put up with by a great teacher, a nice teacher.  When he started school in Britain his teacher was lovely, enthusiastic, creative, encouraging.  But nothing could have prepared us for the overly abundant way God was going to answer this prayer.  Timmy’s teacher loves him, she declares it, she loves his sense of humour, his attitude, his determination, him.  She chose him, singled him out, honoured him.  How my heart could have burst!

Annesley school has been the most incredible place, definitely God ordained for the kids to go to.  It is incredible, marvellous, wonderful…miraculous.  How faithful, how incredible God is, to answer the prayer so amazingly, for me and for Timmy.  What a great picture too of our God, its sometimes easier to picture Him as the mean teacher picking out our faults but really how much more is He like the one who sees all of us and just loves us, honours us, singles us out and puts us in the book.  Overwhelmed.

The Shelves are full of Ketchup.

heinz ketchup

A year ago life faced one of its huge challenges, disaster was looming large on the horizon, stress surpassed normality and the what if’s of life seemed too great…. the stores were running out of Heinz Tomato Ketchup.

Here I sit without having thought or worried or bothered about ketchup for several months. I remember using up the last drops of the squeezy bottle with a week left in country and smiling that it would be okay.  Now, squeeze away kids, there is plenty more where that came from.  Life has changed.

The ketchup crisis may have seemed materialistic, silly, unreasonable but it was a part of our life, particularly for Eden which made his life happier.  The shortage summed up life in another culture, everyday things not being around and when they are and you just get used to something the goals move and stocks run out, worlds change, the sink floods the house with upstairs’ dirty water, the electric goes out, the words don’t flow.  Now, none of this happens.

But the stresses change to what may seem more normal to you… how much the bus fare has increased, filling in online forms, too many things to fit in the freezer, the toilet roll is empty and hasn’t been replaced (please tell me this is not just my family!!!)

Now looking back part of my heart longs for the shelves of empty ketchup,now the shelves are full of the stuff, different brands, different sizes, squeezy or traditional… not just one shop but loads of them, the challenge is to get the best value.  Life feels like this too, full of choices, opportunities in different shapes, sizes, quality.  So much around and yet searching for just the right thing, the right one.  Much of the time my mind boggles with options and choices, my head aches from all that could be or is available and I miss the simplicity and even the lack that reminded me to be grateful for what I have, what there is and just is.

Today I need to remind myself to be sparing with the ketchup, to savour the flavour and to be glad that there is more on the shelf.

Kids and learning this week… or What I Learnt at School this Week.


Timmy was talking to Grandma on skype….

“Which hand do you write with Timmy, your left hand?”

Timmy looks at his hands, “yes, yes my left hand…” checks again., “no, no, my right hand!” One more look at the hands… “Yeah, well one of those!”  Yep, unless you started using your feet Timmy!

Then at homeschool yesterday Matilda had to write where she lives, for a long time she was insisting she lives in Tirana, eventually she remembered she lives in Durres and we managed to spell it.  But then for Albania.  The A was easy, the L more tricky as how Matilda says it does not make the L clear, but we got there.  Short time later we managed the B but by now it was all becoming rather stressful (for both of us) “bania, bania, bania” was whispered, muttered, shouted, pondered over, cried over, sulked and stropped over.  “We have the B what comes next?” and so on and on the battle commenced, points were taken, dirty looks exchanged, tears shed, hands pounded upon the table, time limits placed and time limits passed, frustration now at boiling point for both of us but fortunately she has my stubborn streak and so neither of us was giving up on this one!  After at least fifteen minutes she got up from the table, walked around the table and to the wall.  I watched her ready to tell her that she was going to spell this word, she was going to do this work… she ran back to the chair. “A is next..” triumphantly declaring then off she ran again, “and N…” by now I was on to her… SHE IS A GENIUS!

On our wall is a huge world map with flags at the bottom, she had gone over, found the Albanian flag with the word written underneath and was now reading it to answer the question! Seriously! Genius!  Maybe not at spelling but I had to give her extra points for perseverance and problem solving.

It might seem some times that we just can’t solve the problem ourself but I’ll take that lesson I learnt at home school today, look around you, who or what might just give you the answer you need?