Deafening Sounds of Silence

Silence so rarely happens round here… sometimes the afternoon siesta of grandparents snoozing gives a respite from noise but generally it is non stop.

But these sounds aren’t the sounds of cars going here and there, carrying children to school, colleagues to work.  They aren’t the rush to get the shopping and tick that off the list before moving down to the next “must do today” thing.  It isn’t the noise of heavy machinery or big factories manufacturing work and building for today and the future.  I don’t hear the drones of cellphones full of chattering demands or call centres requesting what you do not need.  No for all of this there is only silence.

The noises I hear are chickens (lots of them), croaks of frogs from the dirty canals, crickets chirping from the empty buildings.  I hear children kicking balls, chattering, playing.  I hear parents calling their children home, shouting across the neighbourhood to where ever they may be playing…. there is no fear here of distance and tracking.  I hear grandparents talking over the garden walls or rickety fences, the milk arriving and footsteps rushing to take their empty bottles to be refilled.  I hear cement mixers futilely creating more cement, for more walls of more unfinished or empty buildings that will never be called home.  I hear life.

In the desolation there is not the rushing, the racing, the fast paced life.  There is playing, family, community.

In the desolation there are not jobs, business, prosperity of wealth.  There is helping the neighbour, spinning wool and knitting needles and prosperity of skills we have long forgotten.

In the desolation there is not the noise of the outskirts of a busy town but the chirping, quacking, laughing, chattering of play, neighbours and freedom.

The problem is the sounds of desolation are deafening, we forget to hear the wonder of what is in this place and only listen to what we do not have.  Struggle shouts loud on these dust and mud filled roads.  Hardships peer from every draught filled, gaping window.  Dreams and desires have often been swept out the door and beaten like the rugs until not a speck of their dust remains.  But in all the broken, empty, desolation there are sounds more precious that many long for, days and times gone by where community was not just a theory or buzz word but was life.  That is the sound I hear.

sounds of playing

sounds of playing… how much fun elastic can be!

Flying high when the earth shakes

Flying high when the earth shakes

Yesterday I realised I made an error with a holiday booking, the accomodation was two days less than the flights. That is really not like me! I was glad I discovered it before we left our accomodation, got to the airport and had to camp out for two days but as I looked for an alternative every way seemed a dead end. The airline wanted more to change the flights than the cheap rate I got them for. The accomodation was now fully booked. Every other possibility was coming up at hundreds of pounds, which when you are a missionary family and have spent days trying to save every penny to make a holiday a possibility is VERY annoying! I came up with alternative accomodation but with the same firm but wasn’t what we wanted or what the kids had been asking for, but better than nothing or better than expensive right?
I emailed the firm my proposal.
We had been thinking about what to do for children’s day, but hadn’t really got far with plans. This morning at the kids club we ran out of chairs, table space, crafts because of the number of kids there…. not even all the ones registered! Two weeks before children’s day and I had to tell the kids to stop bringing their friends and relatives! Imagine!
This week we have to get our residency papers in, this in itself is the worst bit of being a missionary here… beyond not putting the paper in the toilet, way worse than the mosquito bites, more awful than being away from family and friends… yes that bad!
So in the early hours as the earthquake woke me up it was just another thing. I lay awake for a while, thinking, too hot, too worried about sticking my leg out because of the mosquitos, listening to the ridiculously loud frogs, the rooster crowing, the ducks quacking.
The earthquake didn’t bother me… I wasn’t afraid, wasn’t worried. The holiday situations didn’t bother me either… I wasn’t worried. When we were once again inundated with kids at kids club I wasn’t bothered….
Perspective… we will get to go on holiday, our forms will be submitted, the kids will all keep coming (and probably bring their friends!) and if it doesn’t? If the earth shakes and the skies crumble? Its all more than okay.

I got an email from the holiday place, they can extend where we are staying for no extra cost. We have an incredible possibility for children’s day which is beyond what we could have imagined and for more kids. The forms are all coming together and …. well we’ll wait and see.
Sometimes its good to remember that its just not worth stressing over, it won’t change because of worry, it won’t alter because of a sleepless night. I know that is easier to say sometimes, but for today I will say it, I will choose to fly and I will choose to trust.

Simple Blessings and Value

Simple Blessings and Value

Love this blog, today it was so exact… what do we say are our blessings or where are our blessings?

The problem with blessings in things is when they are gone we aren’t blessed or we don’t see other people being of the same value because they don’t have the blessings we have.  I know that is NOT TRUE!

I have friends who do bless me so much, whenever I get to spend time with them I come away encouraged, realising my value, realising how great God is.  Why?  Their house is simple, the mum is an amputee and the dad significantly disabled.  The dad tries to work fixing TV’s but he doesn’t have all the equipment, so he takes the TV’s to a shop to check them, but their car is so wrecked it is illegal to drive.  They don’t have money for holidays, they don’t have a savings account, they don’t have laptops or ipads, they were just able to buy beds for the girls who had been sleeping on the floor…  do you know what? When I go to their house I never see what they don’t have.  They have such an incredible life, happiness, peace, joy…. God flows out of them, touches everyone they meet.  They give, they live they trust and enjoy and are BLESSED!

Yesterday with the kids at Burime (we live in an illegal settlement built literally on swamp land) I asked what would make their life better, the answers…

a diamond

a house

health

family

Yes things, a diamond and a house, but the house is what most of us take forgranted, a basic.  With these they would feel blessed… they could have said anything but this was their answer.  Blessing is not in things, blessing is in the heart, seeing God in everything, in everyone.  Appreciating the basics of life, breath, being.  Knowing hope in the middle of a swamp, having faith in the worst prognosis, finding provision in the bottom of the flour sack.  My life has been blessed and I am definetly not against having things, having nice things, having good things and do believe God gives us and loves to give us these.  But they are not where my blessing is this morning, drink you coffee, have a think.  How blessed are you today?

Searching for the Cross at the Second Hand Market

Today we went to the market and there was a stall with second hand bits of jewellery, beads, necklaces, rings.  Think plastic, not gold!  The boys wanted to look through things, I felt so blessed, they were looking for a little gift for me.

No, they wanted something themselves. 

Timmy quickly came across a metal cross necklace
Timmy : Look at this mummy
Me : Oh that’s nice Timmy, really that is nice, if you want it though, you have to ask how much it is.
He asked and is told it is 100 leke (about 70p)
Eden is disappointed at this as apparently what Timmy has found is exactly what he wanted.  A cross necklace, but that’s just what he wanted.  So we all start to look to try to find Eden a cross necklace.  Suprisingly we come across quite a few but they are all crucifixes, with Jesus on them.

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Eden : I don’t want one with Jesus on it, he isn’t on the cross.

The man and lady at the shop ask what we are looking for and we explain we would like a cross necklace, they pull out several, all with Jesus on the cross.  We explain that we would like is one without Jesus on it.
Wait, wait they tell us, we have lots of crosses, wait there.  The man disappears, a few other customers come along, interested by what we are looking at.  They start to look for a cross necklace for Eden too.  No, we repeat time after time, not with Jesus on it.  We are Christians we believe Jesus didn’t stay on the cross, he rose from the dead.  Now there are at least six, seven people around this little table/store, the man has returned with a carrier bag with several crosses and crucifixes in it and again Eden begins to look for what he wants.
He find a cross, a wooden cross, he also finds a silver cross.  Both plain, without Jesus on them.
We pay for our items, 250 leke or about £1.50 and leave the shopkeepers, the customers, the crucifixes and the other crosses behind, with the words clearly spoken.  Jesus is not on the cross, He has Risen.

Thanks for that great sermon boys.  Words, actions, heart and searching for the cross… that’s Easter.

Day Four In a Puzzling Place

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the slough of despondency

Day four found us in the Slough of Despondency… the what????  I had loved this book so far because as I read it I only changed very few words as we went along.  The title for this one had me from the start… the what of how to explain that.  Okay, that’s the title boys lets read on and see if we can make it make sense!

Pliable is accompanying us, but as we begin to head towards the gate we discover ourselves in the slough… we begin to sink and can’t find our way out (great time for acting this bit out, with some squelching and some slurping and some sploooshing) Pliable discovers he isn’t that pliable because he is stuck, just like us, stuck in the mud.  The further we walk, the deeper we go, our toes, our ankles, our feet and through to our knees.  Are we ever going to get out?

Well Pliable does but decides this is not a good idea, if its this tough already he’s out of there.  So he gets out and leaves, back to the kingdom.  Little Pilgrim is despondent (see, I can use that word in context too and it does describe that emotion so well).  No way forward, no way back, just feeling like we are sinking deeper and deeper.

Living in a swamp area with ‘roads’ made of mud we could understand the physcial aspect of this part of the journey easily.  I will not quickly forget the day my foot got stuck in the mud road, as I pulled it out my flipflop broke and there I was, in the middle of the road, in many ways free but still affected by my moment in the mud.  My freedom had come at a cost and now I was faced with a new problem, a flipflopless foot (okay that word probably didn’t exist!) and the next step was still in the mire.  So I took it, the filthy mud road squelching between my bright pink nailed toes, the cold goo sticking to my foot, and on I walked.  One foot flipflopped one foot free.  The dripping traitor of the other flip flop in my hand!  The rest of the road was walked hobbling over the sharp stones, embarrassed, amused, aggravated but moving towards my house, the goal in sight.

Its easy to give up as we get that sinking feeling, for my boys to think of the times they’ve chosen to give up as soon as they have to put some effort in.  To stop where we are because the only way forward means more mess before we find another kind of freedom.  Financial, dreams, hopes, health, job, school…. whatever, we’ve all been there and probably will be again. 

Do you know the best thing though, I made it home, how great that fresh clean water felt as I watched that filthy mire filled mud wash away.  I don’t know I learnt my lesson, its part of life here, there will be more mud and more flimsy flip flops…. but I won’t give up this pilgrimage.  I hope the boys remember it might be easier to run backwards, but it feels way better to be closer to the gate and heading towards your dreams and destination.

Has Anyone Thanked You?

Yesterday we needed to go to a supermarket.  So we went to one in a very small shopping mall.  It is in Durres but in the five years we have lived here we have never looked around it.  As we did Matilda discovered a small soft play area.  Of course came the question… Can I play?  To be honest it looked rather dirty, scruffy, dimly lit.  There was a man there with apparently his two young children a girl and a boy.  No one else.  She ran ahead not waiting for the answer.  She began to run up the slide and over the soft play area, bundling down into the ball pool, giggling and laughing.  The other little girl said something to her but Matilda did not respond.  Her dad tried to explain to her… she is English, she doesn’t speak Albanian, she speaks English.  I corrected him, “Yes, she is English but she speaks Albanian and English.” The dad was surprised and told the girl to carry on, this time with Matildas attention they began to chat, play and interact.  The dad asked where we were from and what we were doing here.  We explained about Burime, that we run a centre for children and teens on the Keneta.  “Has anyone ever thanked you?” he asked.

Now that was not a question I was expecting or fell into the normal run of questions and so I was taken aback for a moment.  Then I thought.  I didn’t really know how to respond.  In fact each morning at the end of the session the children want a hug before they go, no longer satisfied with just saying goodbye or shaking a hand, now one by one I have to hug them.  They line up waiting.  Almost every week at least one child will write a note or make a card to say how much they like Burime, what a difference it makes to them.  The teenagers come along, eyes sparkling, sometimes with mischief, but mainly with a sense of enjoyment.  We get twitters and sometimes emails telling us people are behind us, love what we do.  But thanks? Has anyone thanked you?

Not so often.  Was my reply and straight away he said “Well I am thanking you, thank you for coming here.”  That was nice.  It meant something.  But actually I don’t know it meant more than a hug, more than a note, more than a tweet or a prayer.  The word thanks is great to hear and goodness do I encourage my children to use it more.  But actually as I thought about it, thanks doesn’t feel necessary.  We aren’t doing something that requires thanks, that suggests a recognition of something noteworthy.  We are just being us, we are having an amazing time, having incredible experiences and learning so much. 

Thanks goes to those people who are slogging away to make this possible.  The little girls who make cakes to sell at church to raise money for some crafts.  The generous couple who paid for three weeks of summer activities.  The people facing unemployment who still give ten pounds.  The person who asks not for presents but gives their birthday money to pay for the rent on the centre.  The teen who gives up their Saturday wages to make a difference.  The family who say I can’t give any more because I am sponsoring a child.  The couple that read a newsletter and give money because they understand.  The church that takes an offering and raises the money for kids to go to camp.  Every single person who has given from 2p to thousands to change lives they may never even meet.  Thats where the thanks goes.  To all you heroes who are even reading this because you care enough. 

Thank you.Image

Be Careful What…

Be Careful What You Ask For…. or Offer!

This month has been hard, I, personally have really felt a heavy spiritual weight.  Some people may use that kind of language normally, not me!  But this isn’t something physical I can say, its something else.  Not something I see, or something that is tangible, but something else and so… I have to put it into the spiritual because, well that’s what I believe it is.

It started with strange feeling of my heart racing and pounding, my ears were throbbing with the sound of my blood wooshing through them and around my body, my head was not dizzy but fuzzy in the weirdest sense, like cotton wool mixed with popping candy.  I went to the doctors and everything was fine, pulse, blood pressure, chest, nothing wrong.  But there was.  They prayed and anointed me with oil and I had such a peace come over me.  That’s why I put it down to spiritual.  
But its been like that for the whole month, not feeling right but not being able to say what.  
By Saturday night the same thing was happening, there was a wedding nearby and the music felt like it was taunting me.  It was normal wedding music but it made me feel ill.  My heart was already racing and I checked my blood pressure and it was 211 over 113.  I guessed the machine wasn’t quite right!  I lay there.  I turned.  I prayed.  I read bible verses.  But I was so unsettled I got up and took myself to the hospital.
Now, normally that would be no huge thing, except A&E on a Saturday night you would expect to have a fair few drunks and people worse for wear.  But this is massive.  I drove there wondering how I would find the words to explain how I was feeling.  I wondered where the emergency room was.  What happened there.  What would I do?
I drove up to the place and asked a security guy where I could park the car, he looked in the car and saw I was alone and said he would do it.  I very quickly weighed up the situation and decided that was my choice.  So I gave him the keys and went in through a door.  A small waiting area with six chairs and three people were there with a sign that I could read said TRAIZHE… triage.. okay, I know that!  But no one was there.  I asked the couple seated what to do and they looked at me as though I was speaking another language, okay, I was but my accent isn’t that bad.  A worker came out of another room where she was chatting with a friend and took me straight through these heavy double doors into a corridor full of people, old, men, shouting, chattering, noises, clanging.  I felt overwhelmed and knew every eye was on me, this strange foreigner in their world.  She pointed me to a room and I think told me to sit.  
I took in the room.  There was no hospital smell.  Two rusted, adjustable beds with a filthy cover on each seperated with a broken metal trolley.  There was sink with two soap dispensers (both empty), a brillo/scrubbing pad (?) and a wire basket thing with a bin bag hanging in it.  I sat as told, on one of these beds.  Feet firmly on the floor.  Handbag held tight for comfort and waited.  I watched as medical staff wandered around, chatted to each other.  Relatives meandered from place to place, following trolleys.  Listened as the doctor at one end of the corridor shouted in an argument with a family member at the other end of the corridor.  I saw one of the staff rush into a side room and get an old, empty paint bucket and heard the noises I expected as this was filled.  Then a young guy came rushed in on a trolley, pushed by an elderly porter and his friend, his leather jacket lying under him, tubes in his arms, his body shaking as he moaned in agony.  I wanted to move out the room to make way for him, but didn’t know what to do.  I knew I had been treated better as a foreigner but that had only meant being put in this room and waiting and as I had sat here I still had some racing, my chest hurt but I had a sense of God saying, “Here comes your healing” and reminding me of my prayer that morning that offered myself to reach out to heal those who needed a touch of God.  To be honest in a place like that I would imagine there is little more to do than pray.  I couldn’t quite decide if the boy’s school was equally as dirty or felt cleaner than this place.  I longed for that hospital smell…. something that said someone cleaned here, some sign of that.  An old lady was rushed into my room, her family all stopped to stare at me.  I smiled.  Pathetically.  Then I prayed.  I just wanted to leave.  The doctor (yes the shouty one) came in to take her blood pressure and a nurse asked him to take mine.  I began to explain my symptoms but quickly got the idea he wasn’t interested.  He kind of took my blood pressure and politely said there was nothing wrong and so I said thank you and left as fast as I could.  
The security man was gone.  There was a policeman so I asked him who then found the security man who had put the car in a chained area, unlocked and with window open… oh how Neil would go mad if he knew!! Ha ha.
I drove home.  Feeling silly.  Feeling like I wanted to wash in disinfectant.  Feeling grateful.  Because in the days since my mind has gone back to that place, for the people going there.  For the people working there.  For the lives, the tragedies, the relief… And without fail my own prayer words echo in my mind.  May I reach out to heal those?  Did I really want to mean that or to ask that ever again if it takes me to such places and situations?
I thought again of the million, trillion things we take forgranted.  The years I have lived in a country with free health care, with ambulances you can call in emergency, for the smell of disinfectectant, a throw away vomit bowl, a dial up health advice line, able to explain symptoms and get medicines, a doctors office closer than an hour away.  Oh the times I’ve moaned about not getting an appointment that morning,  that lingering hospital smell, and all the other things that aren’t quite perfect.  I don’t think I’ll moan as quickly ever again. This is a place we trust more, we pray more, we believe more.  Neccessity brings that and I’ll continue to pray my prayer but I know now my words sound different even to me.

Christmas Day Reflections

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This morning at breakfast Timmy said he had a passage to share with us… the first time he has ever done this.  He said he felt God wanted to share this passage, he had thought it was in Matthew but found it in Luke.  He could have stopped there, I was blessed.

He went on to read the Christmas story from Luke, in his slightly faltering reading style. he read about the promise of Jesus, the glory song of the angels and that for us had been born Christ the Lord.  He went on to pray for our day and thanked God that He had sent Jesus at just the right time, as Caesar Augustus had sent the decree at that very moment the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled.

Of course I was in tears, what a beautiful gift.  A child sharing his thoughts from his bible reading, sharing his heart in his prayers, the things he had learnt and the things he now held.  It felt like my Christmas was bubbling over.

But then, later on in the morning we went to an outreach the churches together were doing.  In lots of ways it does not feel like Christmas here at all, we are the only ones celebrating, to everyone else it is just another day in the lead up to their new year celebrations.  This miracle my son had shared about was being missed by what feels like the whole city.  So the outreach was a great opportunity to at least feel a little Christmasy!  There was a stable made and in the shadow of the main mosque in the city, in front of the cities council offices, the square was filled with worship of this Saviour.  Praise music blarred out competing with the mosque’s call to prayer, people gathered, came, asked, had drinks, were prayed for, were offered bibles and literature, children (and a fair few adults) watched the puppet show and children got their faces painted and had balloons made for them.  It was an amazing atmosphere, joy of Christmas was here with the hope of Salvation.

At one point I noticed coming into the square a little girl skipping with a huge smile on her face and carrying a balloon shaped like a flower, closely following her was a little boy laughing and excited to get over to the puppet show and behind them another child carrying a balloon and looking at the twists and shapes.  What got my attention was I knew these children, I’ve seen them before. Normally they aren’t smiley faces and skipping with joy they are street children, begging for money with big sad eyes practiced for the greatest effect.  With determination to get just a little money to take home with them or buy some food.  Their clothes don’t fit, they are dirty like their faces and their scruffy hair.  But today they were precious, excited, wondering children, not beggars, not the lowest, not ignored or shoved away but welcomed, invited, gifted, valued.

But it wasn’t just them, it was me too, through all my dirt and grime, through my daily failings and drudge, the times I feel pushed out, ignored, unworthy.  I was invited to come excited and hopeful to find this Saviour again, this newborn King, this Child born for me.

I hope you can join me skipping to see again the wonder of this Christmas.

An Invitation from the Ambassador

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I know already you are impressed, intrigued or putting me as a little bit more interesting than you thought… I got an invitation from the Ambassador.  Sure it brings immediately to mind a big plate of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, little fingers sticking out and numerous appropriate clothing questions and challenges.  

Exciting isn’t it, an invitation from the Ambassador, its real, I received it by email this morning, it makes me feel so happy, important, valued, to be honest it sets me up on the pedestal I believe I should always have been on.  Yes, if I was in the Downton era I would have been one of the ladies, not one of the skivvies.  I would have wandered round the garden with my petticoats swishing over the manicured lawns, stopping briefly to grasp a faint aroma from one of the beautiful roses.  My parasol protecting my delicate fair complexion from the sun.  Sitting at a table laughing (please read that larfing not laffing!) politely at the polite jokes…..  oops distracted!

Anyway I felt the need to share the news of my invitation from the Ambassador.  You may be wondering what it is for?

Finally recognition of the amazing commitment and work, the incredibly wondrous input I give to the world… yeah, that’s just in MY head too I know!  Well its a general send out to all of the citizens here for the Rememberance Sunday service … but he has invited me for tea and cakes afterwards at his residence, really.  

Yes, so its not so impressive but it made me feel special and made me want to go because the Ambassador invited me.  Got me to thinking of who I am here.  There are lots of arguments, discussions and theories about attraction models, not bringing my culture into this culture but in a way I can’t help it.  Just by being me, a foreigner I am interesting to the people here.  They stare. They ask questions.  They advise me how to wash clothes – separating the darks from the whites… because who I am is a bit of a mystery to them.  But it is actually something of interest.  

But who I am is not just a foreigner from England but an Ambassador of Christ.  Who I am does not just talk about the country of my birth but the family of my rebirth.  Who I am is not just interesting because its a place people wish they could live but its about a place I long for them to live in eternity.  I wonder who is feeling valued because this Ambassador spoke to them or invited them?  I wonder how often I forget who is watching this Ambassador?  I wonder if my invitations feel as special?

I wonder if anyone feels like this Ambassador is spoiling them?( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P-nZZkQqTc – for my non British friends who think I’ve finally gone crazy!)

Hitting Reality today

Often life here has become our normality, having made a quick trip back to the UK many, many things there felt very uncomfortable because they weren’t our norm anymore (did I ever tell you about my total meltdown in Asda?!)

Today though was a day I hit the reality of living here in ups and downs…. grab a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive (oooh that would be nice!)

Yesterday I spent three hours putting together the presentation for this morning’s Gazoo Bible programme for kids.  It involved creating a great animated story (translated) as the main point of the story and an interactive computer game for the final fun activity.  So this morning at 7.50am we set off for home school (not at home!) and had quite a good morning.  At 9.30 I went next door to run the Gazoo session.  We had three new boys, which was great news.  I registered them asking their names and date of birth.  It took at least five attempts for the first boy to understand my simple question… what is your name, when is your birthday?  The second boy I asked (now already knowing what I was going to ask) should have been easier and I got his name no problem.  But when I asked his birthday he said he didn’t have one.  I asked again, knowing some people here don’t celebrate birthdays but presuming he just hadn’t understood.  No, he responded again he just has New Year (the Albanian equivalent of Christmas), no birthday.  I checked, do you mean your birthday is at New Year?  No, his friends said, he doesn’t have a birthday.  One of them then prompted him that maybe he had been born in February.  Yes, the boy seemed to think that was a possibility, so we wrote February as a month, any idea as to the date?  No, no, no.  He just didn’t have any idea when he had been born, no one had ever celebrated with him the fact that he had been born, the importance of him, who he is.  I told him I thought he was really important and that I knew the world had changed the day he was born, he had changed history because he is alive and I would like to celebrate the fact he is alive.  Together we decided that we would celebrate him being alive on February 14th, the day of love as I hope if nothing else this morning he will remember that there is a God who planned for him to be alive and loves him.

Still reeling a bit from this we played the first game and then the electricity cut out meaning all my great multimedia work was for nothing.  Ah well, we carried on and had fun.  When we got home we discovered that we had no water in our tank soon followed by our electricity cutting out as well.  I smiled when I checked with the neighbour if they had electricity… you live in Albania they said!  I know and today I have been reminded!

(this was the shirt the boy wore to one of the Summer camps that says “Believe” on the back!)Image