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Matt 28:18-20

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
NIV

John 20:10-16

10 Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11 but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
NIV




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Mission : Albania

Tom Bonner

October/November Newsletter

I feel almost as if I am part of a "You Were There production, a TV program from the 60’s or 70’s that sought to give glimpses into historical events of the past. I did not live through the Depression of the 1930’s in America, but from what I have heard and read the lives of many people here in Albania mirror what existed for millions in America during that time. Everywhere people are struggling to make ends meet, and experiencing deprivation all the while. Most seem largely content, but many can only think of escaping to some place where the living is easier. For some people their main source of income is a small grill that they set up along the street somewhere and roast ears of corn for sale to the public. For some it is a 10-foot by 10-foot space of ground where daily they lay out their wares consisting of used clothing gathered from unknown sources. Others seek to sell inferior tools and electrical connections. For others it might be sunflower seeds, cigarettes and candy bars. Still others set up small vegetable/fruit stands by the sidewalk (such as it is) to try to eke out a living. I have spoken with several such "businessmen" who were formerly high-ranking military officers, and whose pride is greatly impacted by the inglorious conditions into which they have now been forced. Also, not infrequently will one be approached by a child begging, or see drugged children lying on the sidewalk next to their parents, as a means of eliciting sympathy to aid in revenue-collection from said begging activities.

I have expressed before that my accommodations are far above what many Albanians have available. I had this fact driven home to me recently by the following incident. I was showing some people my apartment, and one man asked, "How many people live here?" I responded that I was the only occupant, and thought nothing more about the exchange for some time. Then later I found out that this man, his wife, and two teenage daughters live, basically, in a one room (plus bath) apartment. I am having a desk built to use for the computer (and a printer when I can get one) at the apartment, and I almost feel guilty. I know that I cannot solve all the problems and needs of the Albanian people, but it certainly does cause one to stop and think when considering the differences between life in the two countries.

All of the above makes the next two items I am going to mention seem out of place, but I will proceed and let God’s Spirit do what needs to be done. I have two major projects in front of me for the betterment of the ministry here in Lushnja. We are without power for usually about four hours per day, from noon until around 4 p.m. It was uncomfortable during the summer when the power went off and the fans we had strategically placed around the study center stopped operating. Now with the change in the weather, and the shortening of the daylight available, it is becoming more than uncomfortable. I have purchased two combination gas/electric heaters for heat, and thus far they make it bearable when the weather gets a little cool. The lighting is the big problem. After about 1 or 2 p.m. most days, it becomes almost impossible to see to read with our students in the back part of the office where our study cubicles are.

I have considered getting a generator that was capable of being wired into the system, and which would start by itself when the power goes off. I priced them and came up with a figure of about $5000, plus installation. It weighs about 330 pounds, and would have to have protection built around it to keep it from "walking off" during the night. Then I was told by our landlord that it would not be possible to have such a generator. The city will not allow us to put it on the sidewalk in front of our facility, and the business on the side will not allow us to put it in front of the entrance to their building. Later, I was told by one of the brothers from the church in Tirana of a piece of equipment that he has in his office. I believe it is called a capacitor. It uses no fuel, is installed inside, and costs about the same as a generator. I am awaiting information from this brother to see if it is something we might be able to acquire for use here. All of that, of course, is contingent upon being able to raise the funds for it. I will keep you posted!!

Secondly, I feel the need to secure a vehicle for use here. I function quite well here in Lushnja, walking everywhere I go. In fact, it’s been good for me from a health standpoint. However, being able to get around outside of Lushnja is another matter. As mentioned in the previous newsletter, we are only about 50 kilometers out of the capitol, Tirana, but it takes 2 to 2 ½ hours to make the trip into the city. I would like to be able to go in on Sunday evenings to worship with the church there, but the bus/van service returning from Tirana ends around 4 p.m. I would also like to have a vehicle large enough that we can use for outings with the church here, taking some of our regulars to events where they can meet and associate with Christians from other places. We have 2-4 members of the church in services each Sunday, with the majority of the attendance being made up of visitors. It would be good for these visitors to see that there are more members of the church in other places, so they can envision being part of such a body in the days and years ahead. I have not priced such a vehicle, and am told that the best place to get one is in Germany. I will try to do some looking while I am there next week and see what kind of dollars we are likely to have to pay. I do know that a former missionary in Tirana bought a used 1995 van in Germany in 1999, for $9000. I have no idea what the comparable vehicle would cost today.

It is exciting to walk down the street and have business men call out, "Hello, Mr. Tom"! Not exciting for my own benefit, but because I am seeking to blend with the people. Yes, I stick out like a sore thumb to some, and they are not excited about having an American in their midst. Of course, the status of political doings at the present time is not welcome to some in a country which is "officially" at least 70% Muslim. For the most part, though, I am being very well received. The barber I have had cut my hair a couple of times now has invited me (though he speaks no English) to come in between haircuts and let him shave my neck, at no charge. I guess he didn’t like the looks of the job I was doing. I was introduced to him by another man who owns a furniture store (mobileri) across the street from his barber shop. The furniture store man speaks fairly good English, and is the person through whom I ordered the custom-made desk. He insists he will not let me pay any more for it than what the man charges him for making it. The people at the post office know me by sight now, and whenever I walk in they go out of their way to help me. The man at the butcher shop told my secretary that he would sell her some bones for making soup only because she was with me. All of this is to say that I am becoming part of the community.

I began language lessons a few weeks ago, but I still can’t speak Albanian! Seriously, it will be a real challenge to learn to speak the language, but I am determined to be able to communicate with these people in their "heart language". I have a one-hour session five days per week with my teacher. He is a man who teaches Albanians, especially young Albanians, to speak English in preparation for taking the TOEFL test. This is the test given to international students who are seeking to attend educational institutions in the U.S. My teacher’s English is not nearly as good as Kela’s, the secretary for World English Institute and the church in Lushnja. I have asked her about being my teacher, but she does not like to teach Albanian, so I will stay with the teacher I have. He has stated that he believes I will be fluent in the language in two years. He may just be trying to butter me up, but I do know that I am working hard at learning the language. In addition to the hour per day I spend with the teacher, I am trying to dedicate two to four additional hours each day. I find myself sometimes getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. in order to spend this time, but I feel it will pay off in the end.

I mentioned in the last newsletter the school children who pass in front of our office. I am something of an oddity, I guess, as they keep coming and the number keeps growing. Today I sat out in front of the office and had about 10-15 children gathered around me. Some were trying out their English on me, others were asking for me to speak "duckese", others wanted to see or hear some ears squeaked. The one problem with children this age, and with whom I cannot readily communicate, is that they seem not to know when to quit. There have been several times when I have had to lock the door to keep them out while I was studying with a student. It doesn’t stop them, as they beat on the door, put their faces to the glass to attempt to see in, and lean against the door with their hands. Their handprints all over our glass doors is not a welcome sight to Kela when she comes to work in the mornings.

Well, I have failed to figure out the technique for getting images into this newsletter. I really wanted to, and will keep trying to learn how, so that by the time I send the next newsletter I will be able to send pictures as well. In the meantime, check out the World English Institute website at www.weiady.org to see updates of various mission works. Bob Patterson is the very capable webmaster, and I wish he were here to instruct me. Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet. I’ve had my sixtieth birthday since the last newsletter, and I find that I am still able to learn. I’m sure I can learn how to send pictures.

Please continue to remember this work in your prayers. I pray only that God may be glorified in Albania, as he reaches out and touches the people here.

"No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ." 2 Cor. 1:20

Because of Jesus

Tom Bonner

 

December 2002

Happy New Year in Jesus!

An interesting month, December, and quite a learning experience for me. As you are aware, this is largely a Muslim country and I was not sure what to expect when it came to Christmastime. It is indeed different, but not so much from a religious standpoint. The big difference is the lack of extreme commercialism that surrounds the holiday in America. In the larger cities of Albania it might be different, though I didn’t notice it to be so when I was in the capitol, Tirana, just before Christmas. The primary reason for the difference is the economic situations in the two countries. Also, the New Year holiday is a much more family oriented time here than is Christmas. Over the many years of Communist domination it was very risky to focus on anything that even resembled Christianity. Therefore, twelve years after the fall of communism, Christmas is not much of a focus at all. Many people work or make trips away from home on that day. On the other hand, many people in the community asked me what we were going to do as the church in the way of a Christmas celebration.

Fireworks seem to be a major part of holidays here, at least the ones I have experienced. I’m not sure where people are getting the money to buy the fireworks (very expensive in the States) but there have been rockets and "bombs" going off almost around the clock for about three weeks now. When I say bombs, I refer to the kind that are outlawed almost everywhere in the States now, packed with enough explosives to do someone real harm if not handled properly. The other evening as I left the office to head home, I walked past a group of young men who had tossed something out onto the sidewalk fifteen feet or so away from where I was walking. I thought I had plenty of distance to be safe, but when whatever it was exploded something, either from the fireworks or the sidewalk on which it was lying, struck me in the leg. It was quite painful for a while but left no permanent damage.

On Christmas day I rented a van (taxi) and fourteen of us from Lushnja went into Tirana to meet with the church there. I wanted to expose the folks here to the larger body of Christians in Tirana. It was very gratifying that of that number, only two of us were members of the church. The rest were individuals that have attended worship with us, and been involved in the World English Institute as students of English. It was a day with some frustrations, but many blessings. I was not aware that the taxi would not be able to take us to our destination. Taxis not bearing Tirana license plates are not permitted into the inner city, so we ended up having to walk at least 20 minutes, arriving and leaving, in the rain. I have become used to the walking, going everywhere on foot here in Lushnja. Some of the folks, however, were quite tired. In addition, one young lady had not been in a vehicle in 6 years, and she was car-sick all the time we were in the van. All in all, it turned out to be a good day.

I spent New Year’s Eve in the home of Artur, Nina and Skender Spaho. On New Year’s day I had lunch with the Gogus. In both settings I learned that I do not eat nearly as much as do the Albanians. At the Spahos a plate with a full fish and a salad on it was set before me. In addition there was Russian salad, of which I was encouraged to partake. I was feeling quite comfortable after finishing that. Then Nina put a plate of viçi (veal) with fried potatoes down for me to eat. About the time I was finishing that, and feeling stuffed, out came the turkey with maize bread dressing. I had to beg off from eating turkey, even though it is one of my favorite meats, because there was also baklava and some other kind of dessert that Nina was wanting me to eat. The same basic scenario took place at the Gogus, with some variation. I tell you, if I ate like that all the time I would need to get a van just for me!!

I was very pleasantly surprised and blessed by the arrival of a package with a number of cards in it from the church of Christ in Eureka, CA. The congregation there has declined in size somewhat from when I was a boy growing up there. The spirit of the church, however, is still very large. They are helping support the ministry here, for which we are thankful, as we are for all our supporters. Though it has been 39 years since I moved away from Eureka, with few visits in the intervening years, I feel a strong kinship with the brethren there, and really appreciated this expression of their interest and concern. While I am on the subject of mail, let me share with you that I have a new, more user-friendly, address than some of you now have for me. The new address is Tom Bonner, P.O. Box 138, Lushnja, Albania, Europe.

We continue to have just the one service, Sunday morning, here in Lushnja. I would like to offer a small group Bible study some time during the week, but finding the time to do so is going to be difficult. Not difficult for me, but to find a time when we can get some turnout. Almost no one, except the habitues of the many bars in town, goes out after dark in the winter, which is arriving at about 4:30 now. I am desirous of doing what needs to be done, at the appropriate time. I am seeking input from the brothers in the church in Tirana as often as I can, for they know this culture and people much better than I do, since they are Albanians. I desire to be able to travel into Tirana on Sunday for evening services, taking people from here with me. However, transportation is the big problem there. Vans and buses stop running after about 6 p.m., I am told, and getting people back home on Sunday evening would be almost impossible under those circumstances.

I have purchased the alternative power source for the office. It is a battery inverter system, and should provide what we need for the time being. It is supposed to be able to run our office needs for up to 5 hours, recharging off the electric power supply when it is operating. If we can cut back on our usage to only absolute necessities, it should last for even longer periods. One other thing I intend to do is try to plug some of the gaps above the roll-up doors in the office. The cold and dust come through those gaps in large quantities, and the heat goes out in equal proportion. The power situation continues to keep me guessing. One night the power went off at 5 p.m., after not having been off all day, and I’m not sure what time it came back on. After two hours of sitting in the dark, and having a serious cold, I went to bed. When I awoke at 12:30 a.m. the power was back on. I suppose eventually, when I can save enough pennies, I will see about getting a power source for the house, as well. It has gotten cold enough that I have taken to sleeping in my sleeping bag. The heater in my home only works effectively when I sit right in front of it. The same problem with gaps exists as at the office, and I don’t believe building insulation is known here in Albania. Everything is built with cement blocks of one description or another, and with no insulation the walls are always pretty cool. For both the office and the house I would like to look into getting a heat pump system that can cool in summer and heat in the winter.

I mentioned above the power situation being a real puzzler to try to figure out. It has been going off at around nine each morning and staying off until about four in the afternoon. During the New Year’s holiday time (almost everything was closed down Jan. 1-3) the power had been staying on more, even all day for two of the days. This morning, after I had done some other things, I decided to take a shower. It was about 10:15, and no sooner did I get in the shower and get all lathered up with soap than the power went off. Weeeelllll, when the power goes off here, hot water is not delivered, though the water heater still contains hot water. So there I stood, shivering and covered with soap, very hesitant to rinse off under the extremely cold water that was available. Eventually, I did get up the nerve to brave the cold and rinse off. Then I sat in front of the stove for a good period of time to thaw out.

I was blessed earlier this week by a visit from Alo Hoxha. Alo is an Albanian who is living in Portland, Oregon. I had met him and his family prior to coming over here. In fact, Alo’s daughter, Viola, was baptized at Metro on my last Sunday there. Ron Clark, one of the ministers at Metro, has been studying with the Hoxha family for some time. I had attempted to get some study going with Alo’s brother-in-law in Portland, Petrit Ismail, but had not been too successful in doing so. Alo had come to Albania to visit his father, who lives in Tirana, and took the bus down to visit with me. I felt very honored, especially that he would endure the ride down on the bus for the purpose of visiting me. He told me that another brother-in-law in Tirana offered him the use of his car, but Alo refused, saying he was afraid to drive in Albania now. It is quite different than in America, believe me. Doug Smith, (from Longview, WA) who worked in Kosova and Albania for some time, told me that his wife won’t let him drive for a month after he comes home on furlough because he is too aggressive in his driving. I was riding with an Albanian driver the other day and he made the comment that the only way to be able to get anywhere is to take an aggressive attitude, and not make eye contact with the other drivers!

Let me present some prayer requests to you, if I may. Please be praying for Eriona Çuko, Nina Spaho, Jetson Tushe, Jorida and Sonilla Prifti, Irena and Mira Gogu, and Altin Koçi. All of these are people with whom we have been studying, most of whom are attending worship service with us. Their circumstances vary but each of them, in his/her own way, has expressed an interest in a deeper understanding of spiritual matters. Please pray for Kela and me as we work here in Lushnja. Keep on your list the needs we have expressed above, and ask God to provide the answers he wants for our needs. Pray that I may always seek the fulfillment of needs, and not just selfish desires.

I will be making a trip back to the States in February/March. Among other reasons for the visit is that the elders of the Metro church would like for me to be present at the Men’s Retreat at Camp Yamhill, Oregon March 13,14,15. The Metro church is hosting the retreat this year, and the theme revolves around evangelism. I will need to leave immediately thereafter to get back here for the national missionary conference in Tirana March 19-20. It is my intention to try to personally visit with everyone and every congregation that is helping support this ministry. I will be in contact with you later about scheduling a time that is appropriate for you. If I can only attend a worship with you, that will be fine. I want to verbally thank everyone who is ministering here in Albania through your prayers and contributions. I also may ask for an opportunity to present the need for a vehicle for the church here. This would be used to meet some of the needs mentioned previously in this newsletter.

I will be writing again before I come in February, and hope to have news of some new brothers and/or sisters in Christ. Thank you for partnering with us in this work, to the glory of God.

"No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ…" (2 Cor. 1:20)

Because of Jesus, and in his love

Tom

JANUARY 03

Tom Bonner

Greetings in the name of our blessed Lord, Jesus Christ! It is my prayer that God is blessing your life in ways you had not even imagined as you begin this new year. Often we fail to ask, we fail to adore, and we fail to acknowledge as we should. I know this is true in my life far more often than I like to think about.

I begin this month with some introspection. Just prior to coming to Albania I attended the Summer Missions Seminar at Abilene Christian University. One of the concepts with which I was challenged during that time is that people who do foreign mission work need to be able to embrace the culture in which they go to work, not merely endure it. To fail to do so is to limit one’s effectiveness in any culture. Though I have done fairly well, and have very few complaints, I fear that I may have given a different perspective in the things I have sent your way. Obviously, there are things about any culture that Christians must shun, things that are counter to a positive Christian example. There are in Albania perspectives, attitudes and behaviors in which I will not engage. The same was true of my life in America. I ask you to pray for me that the Lord will continue to bless me with his guidance in becoming a part of the Albanian culture.

I mentioned last month the visit I had from an Albanian who is now living in Portland, Alo Hoxha. I was surprised as I was returning from lunch one day this past month to find Petrit Ismaili, the brother-in-law of Alo with whom I had studied in America, standing just a few feet from our office. He used to live in Lushnja and his good friend owns an auto parts store near us.  I was able to go into Durres with this friend, Namik, and have lunch with Petrit, his son Enis (whom I knew in Portland), and yet another brother-in-law of Petrit’s, Flamur. The place where we ate was at a hotel on the beach of the Adriatic Sea. It is not nearly so impressive as the Pacific, but much different than what I see on a normal basis.

I have mentioned my co-worker, Kela, in previous communication. Kela will be leaving Lushnja and going back to Tirana soon after my return from the States. She has become engaged and, for some reason, feels that she wants to have more frequent contact with her fiancé. She has been an integral part of the work here, and her presence will be greatly missed. She has served as secretary for WEI, been my buffer with Albanian-speaking people who have come in the office, and served as my translator in the many activities when that function has been needed. I have talked with a number of other people from the church in Tirana about the possibility of working here, so far with no success. I definitely would prefer to have someone who is a member of the church, if at all possible. In the beginning of Kela’s absence I will be trying my wings solo. Please pray for me in that regard, as well. My Albanian is far from adequate for all of the things that need to be done. I have communicated with one of the regular attendees at our worship about doing the translating for us at that time, and have received a favorable response.

We will be moving into a different facility in April. The place where we are currently was rented on a year’s contract, which will be fulfilled at the end of March. The place where we will be moving has these advantages: it is half again as large, will permit the presence of a generator, has a place for parking a van behind a locked gate, will give the luxury of water all the time, has much slower vehicular traffic, and rents for 40,000 leke (about $70) less than what we are currently paying. The ability to have a generator is particularly enticing. Today the power went off at 8:40 AM and didn’t come back on until 4 PM. This is not an every day occurrence, but far more frequent than is desired.

I have established two funds into which I am diverting money as I can. First is the generator fund, which currently consists of $2000. When I priced generators before the price for what would serve very effectively and comfortably was around $5000. That does not include installation. You may recall I reported last month that I had purchased an alternative power source. This was not the preferred equipment, as a generator will do a much more effective job. I plan to save personally, as I am able, and purchase this $1100 system for application at my home. The second fund is for van purchase. Those to whom I have spoken have indicated that to get a good used fifteen-passenger van is likely going to cost at least $15,000. The van fund currently has $8,000 in it. If you are able and would like to help fulfill either of these needs it would be greatly appreciated. You can e-mail me of your interest in helping at tommetro@prodigy.net. Alternatively, simply send any contribution toward these projects to:

                                                Metro church of Christ
                                                Mission : Albania
                                                1525 NW Division
                                                Gresham, OR 97030

We are planning to have another WEI campaign in Lushnja this summer. It is scheduled to begin in the month of July, though the definite date has not been set. We will have opportunities for about 4 people at a time from outside Albania to come and work with us. The primary prerequisites are to have a pleasant Christian attitude, and to be able to read English. Dick Ady’s written materials do the teaching for us. The harvest belongs to the Lord, so we are primarily interested in planting the seed of the word of God. Your housing accommodations will be in a local hotel, which is where I lived for the first month I was in Albania. It is not plush, but adequate, and far above the standard of living of most Albanians. You will fall in love with the Albanian people. They are generous to a fault when you are in their homes, and they look for opportunities to give even out of their poverty, in many cases. There have been no baptisms here to this point in time. Being part of the early days of the planting of the church in Lushnja is a memory that will stay with you for a long time, I guarantee.

We continue to have around fifteen in worship each week, with the guests outnumbering members usually about two to one. I would certainly like it if we had 150 in attendance with the same ratio in place. I have no idea what lies ahead, specifically. I do know that God loves the people of Albania, the people of Lushnja, and desires them to be part of his family. I will continue to work toward that end, and pray that you will continue to partner with me in whatever way is possible for you. I shared some names with you last month, asking that you pray for those people. I would like to ask you to keep taking them before our father in heaven: Nina Spaho, Sonila and Jorida Prifti, Jetson Tushe, Altin Koçi, Eriona Çuko, Mira and Irena Gogu

Last month I gave my new address, but would like to make a correction. What I gave you will get mail to me. I know because this week I got a picture of Humpty Dumpty drawn by Jordan Woodruff, of Gresham, OR. He had included a note in which he told me he missed me. What a treasure! I’m looking forward to many more such memory treasures (especially from my grandchildren) when I visit there soon. Any way, the absolutely correct address for sending mail to me is as follows:

                                                Tom Bonner
                                                Kutia Postare 138
                                                Lushnja, Albania
                                                Europe

I hope to see many of you over the next month. If you specifically would like for us to make contact, please e-mail me at the address given earlier. I am going to be on the move quite a bit, so planning an itinerary will be important. Let me hear from you as early as possible.

Thank you again for your interest/participation in this ministry. May God be glorified through our efforts.

Because of Jesus, and in his love

Tom

February/March/April 2003

I have not left the planet! So much time has passed, and so many things have happened since I last sent out a newsletter. Last writing I was preparing to make a trip to the States, which did take place. I was glad to be able to get to see all of my children and grandchildren, but regret that I did not get to see more of you. Since my children are scattered pretty well, I ended up driving about 5,000 miles to see them, and was able to see some of you in the process. Time, however, would not permit me to see everyone. I thank God for the blessing of being able to make the trip, and share some of the good things that are happening here.

Life is never static, but always dynamic, even in Albania. Someone has said that the only really consistent thing about life is change. While that does not appear to be true on the surface here in Albania, it is nonetheless a reality. Things seem to be at a standstill for some who are unable to find work. Jobs are difficult to find in Lushnja, and cards or dominos dominate the time of many men, young and old, day after day. As one observes this boringly consistent scene there are nonetheless subtle changes taking place. Some of the men seek something better, and their search is not confined to how they might leave Lushnja, or even Albania. True, many have left, and many others continue to seek ways to make it happen, even illegal ways. I heard recently some figures which, if even partly true, give insight into the desire for flight: Albania’s population is 3.5 million, while there are 9 million Albanians living outside the country. Some of this scattering of population has come about as a result of portioning off pieces of Albania to other countries in the aftermath of conflicts. However, much of it has resulted in people looking for something better out of life. If only they knew what God has to offer them! Please pray that the efforts to spread the gospel here may be bountifully successful.

A number of American religious groups have begun to focus on this small city. I have met Americans here who represent the Nazarene Church and the Mormons. Rev. Moon’s Unification Church is here, as well as the Catholic and Orthodox churches. There are others, as well, that I won’t take the time to name. All are seeking to draw the very same people to whom I am attempting to reach out with the gospel. I certainly feel, within myself, unequal to the task of facing the battle for souls. That is exactly what it is, brothers and sisters. We are in a battle in this world for the souls of people, and we are soldiers in the army of God. Whatever your political perspective or your specific feelings about the Iraqi war, the events that are unfolding around us can serve as an impetus. We can be challenged to action on the spiritual battlefield by what we have seen on the physical battlefield. The cheering faces of Iraqi people, as the allied forces arrived to free them from the control of Saddam, gave cause for reflection. Scripture says there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, but Satan surely doesn’t rejoice. The ugly after effects of the Iraqi liberation can remind us of Satan’s constant effort to disrupt the peace that God desires to bring.

The most effective outreach into the city continues to be the World English Institute materials. We have many people stopping in to ask about what we have to offer. While it can be frustrating to deal with people whose primary interest is in learning to speak English, the materials written by Dick Ady do a wonderfully effective teaching of the gospel. The materials do the work, and certainly give opportunity for questions from the students, as well as added input from the one doing the teaching. Please continue to pray for those who are now, or have in the past, been engaged in studies with me : Jetson Tushe, Nina Spaho, Sonilla and Jorida Prifti, Rovena Tushe, Yllka Gjermeni, Mira and Irena Gugo, Hoze Davidhi, and Altin Koçi. These are those who seem to be closest to making a decision to walk with God.

PRAISE THE LORD, two have been added to the kingdom of our Lord. April 20 saw the new birth of Eriona Çuko and Besmir Bërboti both seventeen years of age. A number of us traveled into Tirana for the baptisms, and the church there had a good crowd of people on hand, as well. Eriona and I had talked about baptism back in August last year, right after I arrived here, but she wanted to wait until her understanding grew. She has been extremely consistent in worshiping with us, and has helped in the teaching of the WEI materials. Since Kela’s move back to Tirana, Eriona has served as translator for me on a number of occasions. Besmir has more recently come into the picture. His uncle, who is now living in the U.S., was at one time a member of the church in Tirana, and he has been studying with Besmir long-distance. Besmir has been coming to me as a WEI student, as well as attending on Sundays. Please pray that these two will be protected from Satan’s schemes to pull them back into his kingdom. And again we say PRAISE THE LORD!!

We are now in our new facility and are very glad to have made the transition. We ran into some bitterness in our former landlord, who was not happy with our decision to leave his place. We have found in our new landlords, however, people who are bending over backwards to make things good for us in our new location. Some of the things I have asked about so I could know how I could make them happen, they have taken on themselves. For example, we need to put up some blinds, and they insist they will pay for such. I desire a larger sink in the bathroom, and was going to purchase it. I am told they will take care of it. Some of the same children that visited with me at the other site come around the new location, as well. There are also some additional young ones with whom I am becoming friends. With regard to the change of location, may I ask that any mail sent my way be sent to the P.O. Box I have secured? I have been assured that anything that comes my way will be placed in the box, but if it has the right address on it initially it will certainly expedite things. That address, again, is:

Kutia Postare 138 Lushnja, Albania Europe

Moving into the new facility occurred at about the same time that Kela Foto left to return to Tirana, leaving me as the sole individual working on a full-time basis to establish the church here in Lushnja. Please keep me in your prayers, asking God to keep me from loneliness and depression, which can easily occur when one spends too much time alone. I certainly have plenty of people in my life, but not many with whom I can be completely communicative. I am improving somewhat in my language skills, but have a long way to go before I can begin to say I speak Albanian.

A rather rare event took place occurred April 6 here in Lushnja: we had snow. In fact, many places throughout the country had the same experience. It snowed off and on all day here but, fortunately, it was not cold enough that the snow accumulated at all. The capital city, Tirana, had a bit more snow, and it did accumulate there, creating some problems for people who are not used to such occurrences. Speaking of Tirana, I learned more about getting around, and staying safe, in the city the other day. I had gone into the city to get some things needed for the office. I was standing waiting at an intersection for the "walk" light to come on. It did, but I have learned that the walk sign does not guarantee safe passage across the street. I waited until all the cars had stopped, looked both ways, stepped off the curb, and glanced up just in time to see a motorcycle with two people on it bearing down on me. I was able to get my hands up, but was thrown back about 15 or 20 feet. I was able to stay on my feet, and didn’t suffer any lasting ill effects. The guys on the motorcycle gave me a dirty look! I pointed to the light, they shrugged and left. I was glad to get back home to Lushnja after that day in the big city.

The work here in Lushnja began last summer when Bill Morgan, Bob Threlkeld, Robbie Threlkeld and Clayton Ogier came from the US to work in a campaign for a month. God has been working since that time, but only he knows just how the salvation of souls will result from that beginning. We are planning to have another campaign this summer, during the month of July, and are seeking people who can join us for that effort. The work consists basically of listening to students as they read and answer questions in the World English Institute study materials. If you are not familiar with these materials, let me briefly say that they teach English by using the word of God as the foundation tool. In addition, each English study book is accompanied by a study that is all Bible study. For you to be involved you need no special training or abilities; just a willingness to be used in a place where life is a bit different and you are in the minority. You would have to be responsible for securing your own funding for living and travel expenses. In addition, we ask that you help cover the cost of the materials used. For specific details about the cost factors and other details, please go to World English Institute’s website: www.weiady.org. Time is of the essence, as some of the deadlines mentioned at the website have already passed. But God can certainly use you here if you have a heart for the lost.

Our van fund and generator fund have received some donations, but more are needed. If you would like to help us secure a van for use with the church here, or help us purchase a generator and air conditioner, it will be greatly appreciated. Please send any donations, marked (if you have a preference) for how you want them to be applied, to:

Mission: Albania Metro church of Christ 1525 NW Division Gresham, OR 97030

Let me ask a favor of you who receive this newsletter. I want to use my time wisely, and certainly do not want to bore any of you or have you feel that you are wasting your time in reading this report. Perhaps I share too much detail in what I write, and have heard of one individual who says he does not read anything that comes his way that is longer than one page in length. If you would care to give any input as to what you are looking for in communication from me about this mission, I would appreciate it. Of course, I cannot guarantee that everyone’s suggestions will be followed, since there is a large number of other people who also receive this report. I am open to suggestion. Thank you for your interest in the Lord’s love being shared in Lushnja. If you do not care to receive this newsletter, please inform me and I will remove you from the mailing list.

I have delayed and delayed and delayed in getting this newsletter sent out. I have continued to do battle with things beyond my understanding in attempting to get some pictures sent along with the report. I have attempted to make the transition into the computer age, but part of my being seems to be dragging me back. I will do everything I can to send pictures with the report next month. To those of you who have been asking for pictures, thank you for your patience. I will call in reinforcements to be sure I know how to get it done..

I praise God and thank him for the support and encouragement I receive from so many of you! Please don’t ever stop, and please start if you are not now praying for God to be glorified through efforts being put forth here. To him be all the praise, honor and glory, through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Because of Jesus, and in his love

Tom

 
September 03

The Lord’s Love for Lushnja

I apologize once again for the length of time between newsletters. This is the fourth time I have tried to get the report out. It seems there is always so much to do that by the time I get around to sitting down at the computer, I am ready to head to the bed. That is a fault I will work hard to overcome, for you all deserve to hear how God is blessing his work here.

The work in Lushnja continues at a pace that is dictated by the nature of the city, but in the control of God. I am enjoying the presence of four Americans who have joined me for a month’s period to teach. It is good to have their presence, both because of the increased amount of people who can be taught, and because of the benefit I derive from their presence. We interrupt this newsletter to bring you a late-breaking update. As reported in a previous newsletter, two had been baptized in April. Now nine more have been added to God’s kingdom. We have made two trips to the Adriatic Sea, with four rented vans, to baptize three people each time. Another trip required only one van, because of the lateness of the hour. Two others have been baptized in the bathtub at my home, which is not a very satisfactory arrangement. At today’s service (8/17) eight of the nine previously baptized brothers and sisters were present, and the tenth was baptized today. This is quite remarkable considering that the temperature today hit 40 degrees Celsius, about 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and the trend is to head to the beach under such circumstances. Please be praying about these new brothers and sisters, their faithfulness and growth, and their influence on their families: Eriona Çuko, Besmir Bërboti, Gezim Kolloli, Julinada Meço, Hoze Davidhi, Altin Koçi, Erselda Xhumari, Arten Dyrmishi, Erges Toshkezi, Orieta Llupo and Marsella Nezha. All of them are in their teens except for one twenty-year old young man (Gezim), and Marsella, who is a thirty-year old school teacher. In addition, we have had two young ladies who were baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of sins previously who have asked to be a part of our ministry. They are Irena Gogu and Ermira Bano

It has not been my experience to travel abroad prior to this time in my life. I did live for most of one year in Toronto and experienced the favorable position the U.S. dollar occupied in relation to the Canadian dollar. In Albania the same is true, but there has been a substantial narrowing of the gap since my arrival here. Notice I said since and not because of my arrival. The dollar has lost 20%. Therefore, a generator that I priced sometime around the first of the year has become 20% more expensive. Nonetheless, I have purchased both a generator and a heat pump for the office/church facility. It truly is a welcome thing to be able to have some coolness when the temperature hovers around the one hundred degree mark. I’m sure the presence of these items will be just as welcome when the temperature plunges in just a couple of months, and electricity is off for a good portion of the day.

I would ask those of you who read this report to remember in prayer a very dear brother. Clinton Witter has been of great encouragement to me over the past several years, just by his example. Clinton is in his eighties, but was one of the most faithful to be involved in the singles ministry in which I was involved before making the decision to come to Albania. He was one of the first to make a commitment to support this ministry on a regular basis, and has been faithful in that commitment to this time. He is legally blind so his daughter, Trudy, transported him to many of our singles events, often attending herself. On July 4 Clinton found Trudy unconscious in their home and called the emergency people, but she never regained consciousness. Then less than two weeks later, a nephew had a heart attack and passed from this life. I’m sure, knowing Clinton, this will only cause him to trust even more in the Lord, but I ask you to please remember him in prayer.

Having secured the generator and heat pump, I now turn to the acquisition of a van. With such a vehicle we would be able to transport the people from Lushnja to events that occur among the churches around the country, as well as have the capability to just do things together. Ours is a rather limited city for entertainment of any kind. We have no movie theater, no skating rink, no McDonald’s or Burger King. With a van we could make excursions into the mountains for a picnic, make a visit to some of the ancient historic sites around the country, go to the beach, go for a Sunday evening service with the church in Tirana, or any number of other activities. I would like to get a fifteen passenger vehicle, if possible, but that remains to be seen. There might be some restrictions as far as licensing drivers with a vehicle that large. In order to secure the generator and heat pump, I had to borrow from the van fund, putting us further from our goal of purchasing a van.

I am getting closer (I hope) to securing the document that allows me to legally stay for more than thirty days at a time. The document is called the Leje Qëndrimi and is usually issued for one year the first time, with the possibility of expanding the time with subsequent requests. Of great assistance in this effort has been the man who is my teacher in the Albanian language, Mina Ngjela. Because he knows people who work for the police department, through which the application process is effected, he volunteered to take on this project. He has made at least three trips to the department already, written a needed document in Albanian, and continues to press the issue. People in Tirana have been somewhat jealous that I have someone so willing and eager to assist me in this tedious process. Mina also insisted that I attend the July 4 celebration at the home of the American ambassador’s residence in Tirana. I was not planning to go, because transportation out of Tirana after six in the evening is sporadic, at best, and the event was to last until eight on a Saturday evening (June 28). But he insisted on driving me in, doing whatever running around I had to do in Tirana, and waiting for me to bring me back home to Lushnja. So far I have not made any headway with him in the spiritual area, but his daughter is currently studying with one of the Americans who is here for the month. He shared with me the other day that she is really being challenged in some of her thinking. Please keep the Ngjela family in your prayers, as well.

Language studies had been continuing on a three-time-per-week basis for me, but I have taken a short break to be able to handle the additional student load following the campaign. I am far from being able to say I speak the language, but with the presence of the Americans this past month I can see that I have made some progress. It doesn’t come as easily and quickly as I had hoped it would, but then my brain is not as young and fresh as it once was. My regular schedule also dictates that I do not get to study as much as would be appropriate in attempting to learn such a difficult language. I have learned enough to function pretty well in getting my needs taken care of for living life here. With tongue-in-cheek I say that having the gift of tongues would be much welcomed in my current circumstances, if it was the Albanian language that the Spirit granted to me.

Thank you for your interest in this ministry. If ever you have concerns or questions please send them my way at tommetro@prodigy.net. If you would care to make a contribution toward the ministry here, send it to:

Mission Albania
Metro church of Christ
1525 NW Division
Gresham, OR 97030

Until we meet, whether in this life or the next, may God bless your life with the richest of his blessings, as you have blessed mine.

Because of Jesus, and in his love

Tom Bonner
 

September/October 2003

The Lord continues to surprise in so many ways. With the beginning of school things slow down considerably with the language studies, since most of the students feel they cannot do justice to both their school work and language studies. Some of the new brothers and sisters are out of the area now as well, for various reasons: away at university, in Greece working, looking for work in Tirana (the capitol). I was beginning to feel somewhat down because of this, but then God stepped in.

Altin Koçi is one of those whom God is using to keep me rejuvenated. Altin is a nineteen year old young man who comes from a moderately Muslim family. When I first met him he seemed engrossed with the study center here in town connected with Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. I went once with him to the center, and then was very honest with him about my perceptions regarding this group. He was baptized in August and since then has been almost a bother, coming to the office almost every day to see if there is anything he can do to help. Last week he asked if I would come and speak at his high school, and this week he wanted to talk about starting classes for beginners in English, so more could come to know about Jesus. Some of the things he wants to do will not be possible, at least for a while, but it is so good to see his involvement and interest.


Altan Koçi

When Orieta Llupo decided she wanted to be baptized, she went home and talked with her father about it. He gave his permission, but she shared that he also told her she could not be involved with the church, because it would take too much time. She and I spent a good bit of time talking about what the Bible has to say about being part of the body, the family of God. I offered to go with her to talk with her father, but she said she wanted to try first to convince him to let her be involved. She came back in a couple of days literally beaming. I asked her what her father had said, and she replied, "Can’t you tell by looking at my face?" She was baptized, and has missed worship only once, when she was out of town for a wedding. One Sunday I thanked her for being present, and her reply thrilled my soul. She said: "I don’t have any choice. I made a commitment to Jesus." Then she added, "I want you to know I’m not trying to impress you with my coming, but wanting to please Jesus!" Does it get any better than this?


Orieta Llupo

Recently I had a call from Greece. The person on the other end of the line was Gezim Kollolli, a twenty-two year old young man who is working for "just one more year" in Greece. Just prior to his departure for Greece the church in Durrës hosted a Bible Bowl. It looked like we were going to have to form two teams from Lushnja (4 each) because our new Christians were so excited about being involved. They studied hard (some harder than others), but not everyone got to participate, because attrition took its toll on our numbers. Gezim was one who got left off the final team, but he went with us to the competition anyway, as did seven others who were not participants. When we got back to Lushnja he said, "Next year I am going to be on the team, and I will be the captain." In his phone call he sounded almost homesick to get back to the church here. He lives in a village quite some distance out of Lushnja, but I believe he will be a leader in the church in years to come, after his return from Greece.

I was negligent in my last newsletter to not mention those who had given of themselves to come and work for a month to reach out to the lost of Lushnja. Bob and Roxie Patterson, from Oregon, touched the lives of many with the love of Jesus. Sharon Saenz lives in California, and has been to Albania for similar efforts several times. Bob Threlkeld, who was one of those who initially dreamed of a work in this city, came for a second year from Tennessee to share the Good News in Lushnja. The Lord is certainly being glorified through the efforts of these, and other, dedicated Christians. Through the sacrifice of such wonderful people many are coming to know Jesus in more than a nominal way. Praise God for them!

We have gotten through the hot season here, and now the rains begin. As mentioned in a previous newsletter, the rain here results in much mud. The past couple of weeks, however, work has been going on to install storm drains and repave one of the streets that is on my course to and from the office. Yesterday one of the young men of the church told me that the effort to get this done is great because the elections are coming up. It seems there is little continuity between one governing party’s term and the next. Many projects are left until the end of an elected term to try to impress the voters.

I have had difficulty getting an accurate number for the population on Lushnja. The numbers given have run all the way from 35,000 to 125,000, which is quite a discrepancy. Recently, elections were held here, and the man elected to the position comparable to our "mayor" is a good friend of my language teacher. We went one day and had coffee with the new mayor, whose name is Kadri Gega, a man whose work until now has been as a private English teacher. (Please pray for him as he takes on this huge responsibility.) During the conversation with him and the director of his political party I learned that the "official population of Lushnja is right at sixty-four thousand. Whatever the population, the city certainly has a small-town atmosphere, especially compared to Tirana. I have been going into Tirana on Friday’s for several weeks now, at the request of the church there, to help with training a group in singing in four-part harmony. As I walk about the city the differences between Tirana and Lushnja are quite evident, and Lushnja comes out ahead in my evaluation.

I am focusing some attention in the direction of attempting to secure a van. Thanks to WEI, who has been diverting some funding our way, it appears that we may now have enough to buy the vehicle and pay the dogana (tax). I am not sure how quickly this will occur, as I have been at it for over a month now, with no definite leads. I have even enlisted the assistance of a man in Durrës, referred to me as "absolutely trustworthy", but I have heard nothing back from him. I have been encouraged by many Albanians not to buy in Albania, but to go out of the country. Documentation continues to be a problem with vehicles bought here. The only problem with buying out of the country is the import tax one is forced to pay when registering the car. Virgil and Jackie Jackson, missionaries in Vlorë, recently bought a nine-year old car in Italy and ended up having to pay almost a 50% tax. That certainly is a strong determinant in what kind of vehicle one can purchase. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

I continue to thank God for allowing me to come to Albania. Many of you have cooperated with God in providing the financial backing to make the church in Lushnja a reality. I don’t know all that is in store in my future, but I love the way a song I heard, before coming to Albania, put it: "I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future." In a country where so many people have so little hope of their futures being bright, it is a thrill to be able to introduce them to the One who can make their future, and their present, better.

Please pray for me as I focus on trying to make disciples here. What the numbers are, or will be, is not nearly so important as whether disciples are being made. A disciple is one who has chosen to follow Jesus, regardless. Far too often people have been convinced, not convicted. The ones who have been convicted are the ones who stand when things get most difficult. Such are the ones Jesus is seeking.

Until next we meet, may God bless your lives richly, as he is mine.

Because of Jesus, and in his love

Tom

 

0 miles while in the U.S. I was combining a couple of quests: to see all my children and grandchildren; to raise some funds to replace support that is no longer going to be available. I was partially successful on both accounts. I was able to see my family, though in one instance I arrived early afternoon while the children were still in school and left the next day after they left to go to school. There just is never enough time for such reunions, especially after a prolonged period of separation. As for the fund-raising, I was able to secure some one-time donations that will certainly help. What I was seeking was some kind souls who could/would commit to a monthly sum over a period of time. But, God will provide what is needed, and I am totally confident of such, for he has promised so.

My time away over the holidays was a test: a test of endurance for me, given the territory I had to cover; and a test for the young Christians here in Lushnja. I did all right in my test, but the Christians here came through in superb fashion. I met with the church prior to my departure and told them that now it was time for them to begin to accept ownership of the responsibilities that go with being a body of believers in the Lord’s church. If the church is to succeed here, it will not be because of my presence, but in spite of it. The church must become an Albanian church, and that involves owning the responsibilities for the ongoing of the church. Various assignments were mentioned, and accepted by the young group of Christians. This involved young men accepting responsibility for cleaning the meeting place on a weekly basis. Now, this might not seem like much to you, but it is not a commonly accepted thing for men to do that kind of work here. One day, for example, I was cleaning the office and one of the young men came in and saw what I was doing. His first remark was, “You’re a woman!” I’m glad to say he was one of those who volunteered to do the cleaning. The lack of experience in this kind of endeavor showed, particularly in the attempt at cleaning the glass front of the meeting place. From all reports, they tried and tried but just couldn’t get the windows to look clean.

I still wait for my leje qëndrimi (permission to stay) document. I made application for it many months ago, but the wheels of progress in such government functions (because they are government related) turn very slowly. I have received some encouraging news, however. My language teacher, and friend, Mina Ngjela, shared with me that his friend in the police department here in Lushnja is now in charge of that section of responsibility for this district. His friend has told him to inform me that I don’t need to worry: I will receive my document. No promise as to when, however.

I am now in contact with some brethren in the church in Cologne, Germany who are going to work with me in securing a van for use in the work here. They work for Ford Motor company there, but have access to the used car market, as well. I have decided to wait until the weather is a little less unstable before going there and trying to drive back here. The western European area has had its share of winter weather, and it would be unwise to take risks unnecessarily. The next thing I have to decide relative to a vehicle is how to declare it when I return. As a foreign national, I am told, I could use it here in Albania without having to register it in the country, thus avoiding the import tax. But the van will belong to the church (though, for now I will have to register it in my name) and I do not want in any way to be duplicitous. I may end up having to bring the vehicle back into the country, but wait to register it. That will depend on how much tax (V.A.T. and import) I have to pay. If I don’t have enough money, I will have to wait. The weakness of the dollar currently is not helping in all of this, either. When I came to Albania in August ’02 the exchange rate was 135.5 leke per dollar. Currently it is around 105.5 per dollar. That is quite a drop in buying power, both personally and ministry-wise. It is about a 22% decline in dollars available. In other words, less income. In addition, I have lost $300 per month in monthly support. (HINT! HINT!) If you can help with this problem, it would be greatly appreciated.

Please pray for your brothers Altin Koçi and Besmir Bërboti. These are the two young men who are desirous of preaching. Altin preached before I went to America, and has asked about it since my return. Besmir asked this week when he was going to get a chance to preach. They are wanting me to start a class for teaching them to preach, which I am excited about doing. Both are good young men, but don’t always follow through on their commitments. I challenged them to learn the books of the Bible while I was gone, but neither of them has completed that task. I have kind of put them on hold for further development until that task is accomplished.

I have been through a real ordeal, though it is nothing compared with what many of you endure on a regular basis, I am sure. I was beset by the hiccups for a period of eleven days. I couldn’t sleep for more than 1-3 hours at a time because the hiccups would wake me. Along with that I developed some severe gastrointestinal problems that were creating a lot of pain in my stomach and chest, so I could eat hardly anything. I am glad to say both problems are in abeyance, though not finalized. The hiccups stopped after one 25 mg dose of a drug I am now told is a psychological drug. I had been asked all along if I was under stress, which I denied, and still do. But the fact remains, the hiccups are gone with no recurrence, though the medication is no longer being used. The other problem resulted in me agreeing with a gastroenterologist to make an appointment to enter a hospital next Monday, during which time a scope will be inserted down my esophagus into my stomach to see what, if any, problems can be detected. At any rate, it appears that I am going to have to learn to eat differently, more blandly and in less quantity. What is that old saying about every cloud having a silver lining? I could stand to lose some weight! (Late-breaking news! I learned yesterday, through an endoscopy, that I have severe gastritis, a hiatal hernia, and infection of the esophagus. I am on 4 different medications trying to combat it so I don’t have to have surgery.)

May I say once again how blessed I feel that God has allowed me to come here and work with these wonderful people. I have many friends throughout the city, and I pray that some of them (if not all) will someday be my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is much competition in the area for the minds of men, some overtly evil and some ostensibly spiritual. I know I need to be careful not to become involved in anything but the proclamation of the gospel, but sometimes it is a real challenge not to address some of the false doctrines floating around. I am sure God will provide opportunity to speak boldly in proclamation in the days and years ahead. Please pray for me to that end.

Because of Jesus, and in his love

Tom
 
February – March 2004

It seems hardly possible that nineteen months have passed since I made Lushnja, Albania my home.  God has been busy educating me in many different ways. The most important lesson did not begin here, but on the day I chose to become a follower of Jesus, as it does with all who follow him.  That lesson is one of learning to trust absolutely in God rather than in yourself.  As I said, my learning has not always kept up with the teaching, but the lessons and the learning continue.  Please lift me up before the throne of God that I may be who God needs me to be here in this environment.

 

I was able to secure a van for use in the work here!  Soon after I got it two of the young men from the church and I went to Fier, a city about 40 kilometers south of here, for their Sunday afternoon worship.  Also present there that day was a group of Pepperdine University students who are involved with the university’s year in Europe program in Florence, Italy, and the director of that program.  The boys commented later about how much they had enjoyed that opportunity to meet Christians they had not known before.  I have also been able to make use of the van as I travel into Tirana each Saturday to work with the church there on learning to sing in four-part harmony.  I do have to be a little circumspect in my use of the van, as fuel here is quite expensive.  The van has a diesel engine, for which the fuel is about $2.72 per gallon.  Gasoline is more expensive, selling for around $3.96 per gallon.  I have been seeing that the prices in America are on the rise now, but it likely be a while before you catch up with us. I am thankful that the van gets around 29 mpg, if my conversion from the metric system is correct.  Thanks to all of you who contributed in any way to helping make the purchase of the van possible.  Having it enables me to come and go on my time schedule, and be involved in things that I would not otherwise be able to.

 

I am asked quite frequently by the Albanian people how I am doing living here, what I like best about Albania.  My answer is always the same: the people.  Let me share some of the reasons why I say this.  The income level of the people here is far below what most people in the U.S. enjoy, but do you think I can buy anyone a cup of coffee?  No!  My money is no good for that purpose.  Today I was sitting at an outside coffee bar having coffee with a man (a car parts store owner) when a group of boys with whom I have made acquaintance noticed me and came over.  One of them asked if this was my friend, to which I replied “yes”.  He then wanted to know if I had a lot of friends here and I was glad to be able to tell him I have many friends in Lushnja.  The day I bought the van I was stopped because the van still had expired German license plates on it.  When I revealed to the policemen that I was an American, they started wanting to talk politics.  It was comical to see one of them voice his support of George Bush, while the other showed himself to be a John Kerry supporter.  Politics here are a sore spot with most Albanians, and they welcome the chance to talk about what the situation is like in America.  Another example of the generosity of the Albanians came when I stopped at a car parts store, owned by yet another friend, to have him look and listen to the van.  He ended up putting a new part in the engine area, for which he would not let me pay for either the part or the labor.  Many such examples could be given, but suffice it to say that I am very well-treated by the Albanian people, who have suffered mistreatment for centuries at the hands of others.  Please pray that God will use me to open eyes to the wonderful love of our Lord, who is the giver of every perfect gift.

 

Some of the readers of this newsletter have asked how I am doing with the health problems I shared about with you in the last newsletter.  I am glad to say that I have experienced the disappearance of the  symptoms that were so problematic, though the cause still exists.  With God’s blessing, I will likely not need any kind of surgery for those problems.  I may, however, need to undergo surgery for a different problem, which I have faced before.  I am checking into what options are available for such an undertaking in Europe, so I don’t have to make a trip back to the States, if surgery is required.  Please keep my health in your prayers, please.

 

There are some frustrations in beginning a new work.  One of the major ones for me has been instilling the principle of involvement with the body for worship and fellowship.  I know this is true of churches everywhere, at least any of the congregations I have worked with over the years.  As has been shared in previous newsletters, most of our new Christians are teenagers, thus still under the authority of their parents.  Education is a very big item on the agenda of most parents, as regards their children.  If the parent says stay home and work on your studies, that is what one does.  But with all of the frustration, there are also blessings.  Orieta Llupo, to whom I have referred in the past, lifted me up again a couple of weeks ago.  She is the young lady whose father at first said she could be baptized, but couldn’t be involved with the church.  After we talked, she went home and talked with her father again, and he gave his permission for her to be baptized and participate with the church.  Well, recently he explained his actions: he did not want her to get involved with something in which she did not really believe, but he could see now that she really did believe in what she was doing and what she was being taught.  Praise God!

 

I just spent an hour with a young man who may be a brother one day.  He is a very intense young man, and one who will be a blessing to the Lord’s church here if he arrives at the decision to give his life to the Lord.  He has been trying very desperately to get out of the country, but has found all channels blocked.  One avenue he considered was to enter another country illegally, and hope for the best if he was caught.  I am thankful he has abandoned that thinking.  Please put Ilir Shima in your prayers.

 

Part of my personal support enabling me to be here is being supplied by the Bell Trust Fund, with the balance being provided by my sponsoring congregation, the Metro church of Christ in Gresham, Oregon.  The normal practice of the Bell Trust is to reduce their involvement by 20% each year for works they are supporting.  This year that policy resulted in a loss of $300 per month from them, only $75 of which has been replaced.  If you are able, and believe in what is being done here, would you consider becoming a supporter of this worker, in this ministry?  Your help would be greatly appreciated.  The best way to handle this would be to inform me first, then send any contributions to:

March – April 2005

Greetings in the name of him who carries us over the troubled waters of life, Jesus Christ.

Reflection
I read something recently that caused, and is still causing, a great deal of reflection in my life. It had to do with recalling the challenging and disappointing times of life, and the almost universal inclination to wish we had not had to face such things. The pain of physical and emotional suffering is certainly never enjoyable. However, it is at such moments that characters are built and strengths for the future trials of life are acquired. It is certain that all of us can think of situations we would rather have not faced. In that recollection, however, we can also think of ways in which we have been benefited, perhaps in far greater degree than what we have suffered or lost. As I think back on my life of the past sixty-plus years, painful memories return. As I think of the past two and one-half years that I have spent in Albania, I can also identify things I would rather have not gone through, and some of them are very current and present in my life. This much I know, however. Our God does not allow his children to face unendurable temptations to turn away from the path of life, but always provides escape routes. That does not mean we do not suffer the things addressed above, but it does mean that always we can grow and glorify the Lord if we will keep our focus on Him who gives us life. I don’t always do that, and I fail to be who I should be in those times. But forgiveness, and strength for the battles of life, is always available to us. Much of the technique of spiritual survival is acquired in the most difficult events of life. Praise God for difficulties!!


Bridge Building
In March I made a trip to Zagreb, Croatia. The purpose of the trip was to help in the effecting of communication between two elements of the church. The terms generally applied to these two groups are the “mainline” church, and the former International Church of Christ. I don’t like labels, and I also know the Lord grieves over the divisions we humans create between ourselves. It is to be hoped that any attempts to build communication and bridges between brothers and sisters in Christ can only be seen as positive by all. I was pleased to find out when I got there that there was more communication and mutual involvement already in existence than I had understood. I met some wonderful Christians from both “sides”, and believe that there are many opportunities ahead for God to be glorified by the acceptance in love, each group of the other.

While in Croatia I also got to reconnect with Tom and Sandra Sibley. Tom and I served together on staff with the church in Vancouver, WA a number of years ago. The Sibleys have been serving the Lord in Zagreb for six years now, and feel as if it is where they will spend the rest of their years.

I also traveled by train to the other side of Croatia to visit with Besmir Bërboti, the young man from here who is attending school with the goal in mind to come back and work for the Lord with the church here in Lushnjë. He has some real challenges ahead of him to complete this dream, so I would ask that you include him in your prayers, especially that Satan would be held at bay through this difficult time.

Not Far From The Kingdom
There continues to be hope and joy in my heart over the nearness to the kingdom of some of those with whom I have been studying. Sometimes, when I don’t understand why they are delaying, I find myself feeling that perhaps they really do not understand the commitment part of this decision, though I have worked very hard to try to communicate it to them. I certainly will not try to rush people into an action that their hearts have not led them to. Then there are others, both since I have been in Albania as well as throughout my ministry, who have chosen to be baptized but who have failed to follow through on living for the Lord. I am reminded of the parable of our Lord which taught that saying “yes” but failing to obey is useless; at the same time, when one says “no” but later does what was asked, the Lord’s will is done. I pray not only for people to make the right choices about entering the kingdom, but that those of us who are children of God through God’s grace and our obedience will always say “yes” to the call we have received.

Issues Of Concern
I have been waging some “red tape” wars with various elements of Albanian documentation processes. I still am try to secure my leje qëndrimi (permission to stay), which would be a lot more comfortable than being an “illegal alien”. I have had no difficulties of any kind as a result of this status, but I want to be in full compliance with the requirements of Albanian law. In addition, I have been trying to secure non-profit status for the World English Institute office, so that taxes are not imposed. It seems we will have to pay a cleaning tax for streets and garbage collection (about $400 per year) and a sign tax (about $15 per year). In addition, I have been trying to get the church registered as a foundation, that status under which all churches have fallen until now. The Albanian government, however, is now trying to draft a new law governing all religious organizations. The exact reasons for this are not clear, but could involve a number of things. First, Albania wants eventually to gain admittance to the European Union, and this kind of law will likely be a prerequisite to that taking place. Secondly, there have been a number of suicides in recent months within the religious community, mostly young people. This is causing some concern in all quarters. Thirdly, four groups are recognized by the government as religions, and they might be putting some pressure on the government to step in and try to regulate the numerous groups that have come here that are not officially recognized. My own endeavors for the foundation status are hampered by the fact that only one of the active members of the church here is of “accountable age” (18) and thus able to sign legal documents. Please keep all of this in your prayers in the days and months ahead.

The “Close To Macedonia” Call
In Acts 16:9 the apostle Paul had a vision during the night. It was “of a man from Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” In New Testament times it is thought that what is now Albania was a part of Macedonia. I am still looking for people to come and work in teaching Bible and English here in Lushnja during the month of August. At this point, I know of two who are planning to come, one for two weeks, and one is going to try to be here for three weeks. I do not come to you in a vision, as in Acts, but I am in effect begging for workers. Dick Ady, one of the elders in my sponsoring congregation and the author of the World English Institute materials, is working with me to try to secure workers. Would you answer the Albanian call? Who knows who might be in heaven because of your decision to do so? May God bless you as you contemplate this request, and the potential for eternity if you accept. If you are interested in answering the call, please email either Dick Ady or me. Dick’s email address is weiady@aol.com. Mine, of course, is tommetro@comcast.net.

God’s Blessings
May God be with you as you seek to serve in your own ministry, whatever that may be. If you do not have a ministry, find one! God did not call us all to the same task, but he did call us all to serve in the kingdom. Teaching children, preparing meals, visiting the sick, etc., are all ministries. However God has given you talents, use them to his glory.

Because we are loved from above,

Tom

Tom Bonner

February 2005

My Apologies

You will never know how many times I have tried to send a newsletter, and been thwarted in the attempt.  I could give you a long list of reasons, but you probably don’t want to hear them anyway, so I won’t.  Suffice it to say some of the very long delay between reports has been partly due to technical things, and partly due to “Tom” things.  I hereby commit to doing better in the future.  Many of you have supported this ministry faithfully from the beginning, and you certainly deserve better communication about the work than has been the case lately.  I hesitate to make promises about future frequency of communication, and resolutions often go amiss.  But, please know that I love and appreciate all of you, and your great patience.
 

The van purchased for the work here continues to be a mixed bag of blessing/frustration.  It is certainly a blessing in the times when I must, or desire to, make trips into Tirana or some of the other cities around.  The air conditioning I had installed in Athens, Greece has not functioned correctly from the beginning.  The owner of the shop where I had the work done seems ready to make things right, but that means that in the spring I must take another long drive down to Greece.  Anybody want to go along for the ride?  Labor on the van, when I need to have anything done to it, is relatively inexpensive.  Parts and other necessities have a larger price on them, however.  Oil, for example, is more than $6 per liter, which is a little over a quart.  The van holds ten liters, so when I change the oil it costs more than $60 just for the oil.

Most of my travel over the past several months has been into Tirana for the purpose of working with a group of members there to learn to sing four-part harmony in Albanian.  Most singing in the church here is done in unison, as people just are not that familiar with any other type of singing.  The church in Tirana has a dream of utilizing the group I have been working with to teach the church there to sing in harmony, and then to use the group to make a CD which can be made available to the other churches in Albania.  One night as I was returning from a practice session, I was “kidnapped” by a policeman.  I was flagged down by this policeman, but when I stopped he did not come to the driver’s side of the vehicle, but began trying to open the passenger door.  The door was locked, and all of my stuff was in the seat and floorboard on that side of the van.  He became very irate as I tried to talk with him through the closed door and window, so I opened the door.  He informed me he wanted me to take him to a village near Lushnja, so I hesitantly transferred my things to the second seat and he climbed in and began to make himself “at home”.  He made 5 or 6 very angry phone calls, with yelling and cursing, on his cellular, then insisted that I pull into a karburant (service station) so he could look up another number.  When we got over to the main highway he tried to get me to drive faster than I was, sixty kilometers per hour, which was the posted speed limit.  I refused, telling him I would not drive over the speed limit.  Several times he tried to hurry me up, and I told him I would not drive faster, but would let him out if he was not happy with my driving.  Finally he had me pull over and he got out.  As he slammed the door he was muttering, “Gjashtëdhjetë, gjashtëdhjetë,” which is the Albanian word for “sixty”.

continue to have excellent studies with the students, especially those who are school teachers.  They are telling me that when they complete the WEI materials, they want to continue with me in some other study.  I will have to evaluate the wisdom of that, and the progress of the spiritual process.  I would like to ask you to pray for Ariana, Silvana, Alma, Anjeza, Erid, Marsel, Saimir and Juxhin.  We have many excellent discussions about spiritual matters, and I pray that they will become members of God’s family at some time in the future.  A couple of them are involved with another church here in town, and some are from Muslim families.  There are some issues that have come up in our studies that have been eye-opening for them.  Alma, in particular, has expressed an interest in being baptized.  She is married, the mother of two children, a school teacher, and has been of the Muslim faith all her life, as is her husband.  There are some roadblocks to her decision, and I ask that you will pray for the Lord to work in her heart to overcome Satan’s efforts to discourage her.

Seeking Albanian Worker For Lushnja

One thing that has been a goal since I came here is to get a competent Albanian to come and work in Lushnja.  This is not a “destination” city, and I have had little success getting people interested.  Not much goes on socially or commercially here, and people have little to draw them into the area.  I ask that you pray for the Lord to send someone who can become a leader in the church here.  I did have a conversation recently with a young man from Albania (Tirana) who is a student at the Bible school in Athens that is affiliated with the Sunset International Institute of Biblical Studies.  He finished in December, but has some problems with coming back into the country due to the compulsory military service imposed on all young men.  If it is to become a reality, financial support will also have to be raised for him.  Please keep this whole situation in your prayers, as well.

Those of you who have known me over the years will be very familiar with the name of Fran.  I am saddened to have to share with you that she passed from this life on September 16.  She had been battling lymphoma for a number of years, enduring chemotherapy and radiation treatments in an effort to try to eliminate the disease.  But, after a six-week stay in the hospital, she lost the battle.  Thankfully, all of our children were able to be with her at the time, and sang and prayed with her prior to her departure.  The children, as well as the elders of the Metro congregation, encouraged me to come to the States for both my benefit and the benefit of the family.  The elders set about seeking to raise the funds to make this possible, and I was able to make the trip.  Many of you contributed to make that trip a reality, and I thank you so very much.  I also had to have some surgery (hernia repairs) while in the States on this trip.  I had some difficulties after my return to Albania, but all that seems to have righted itself.

Young Preachers

It is encouraging that two of our young men here are wanting to preach.  I am trying not to be too human in my evaluation of their personal motivations, and am willing to let the Spirit of the Lord work with them about that.  These two young men are Altin Koçi and Besmir Bërboti.  I will share more about them later, but am attaching some photos of them, and of the group who met for worship on February 6.
 

 

The church at Lushnja

 

Summer Campaign

One of the most effective ways of reaching people here has proven to be helping them improve their English.  Campaigns during the summer provide the opportunity for much contact, especially with the younger people.  I am contemplating a campaign this summer, and am looking for four interested parties to join with me in this project of teaching.  It might be possible that you cannot come for four weeks, but would be willing to come for two weeks.  Your expenses will not be paid, and it will be hard work.  But it is also one of the most rewarding experiences many people have ever had, and some teachers commit year after year to helping spread the gospel in this way.  If you are interested in helping here in Lushnja, please contact me by email as soon as possible.  We are looking, most likely, at the month of August as the time for the campaign. tommetro@comcast.net

 

In the hands of Jesus,

 

Tom


May-June 2005


A Growing Family

I am pleased and thrilled to tell you that we have two new sisters in Christ. On May 29 Silvana Eksarko and Alma Kajdo were baptized into Christ in the Adriatic Sea. Both have been studying with me for more than a year, and have become my friends even before they became my sisters. They are sisters-in-law to each other (Alma is married to Silvana’s brother), and were both raised as nominal Moslems. Prior to their baptisms I asked each to share who Jesus was and what he meant in their lives. Both had beautiful statements, summed up in the words of Alma: “I had known about God, but I did not know about Jesus. Now I know that He is my Savior.” The ladies are both school teachers, and Alma has two children (see attached pictures). Silvana’s husband works in Greece and is seldom in the country. Much zeal and enthusiasm is brought to our small body here with the addition of these two ladies.

Silvana Eksarko and Alma Kajdo

Also in the “growing family” category is my own physical family. Ava Faith was born June 1 in Vancouver, WA to Trey and Jenn. This brings to an even dozen the number of grandchildren I have, divided equally gender-wise. “Cheaper by the dozen” is really true when spread out between four families.

Looking To The Future

It has always been my desire that the work here have Albanian leadership. Such has been hard to come by. All of our members are young in the faith, and most of them are in their teen years. There is a possibility that there is a young Albanian man, a graduate of the Sunset International Bible Institute school in Athens, who might be available for the work here. Of course, the church would have to approve of him and he would have to desire to work here in Lushnja. When those two items are dealt with, there is then the question of support. I am beginning now to look for churches or individuals who would be willing to commit to helping in the support of a full-time national worker for the church here. Would you be one of those people or congregations? I believe God wants to do great things here, if we are willing to cooperate with Him. May we join hands in this effort?

This And That

The first part of May I made a quick trip to Athens to secure service on the AC I had installed in our van. It had not been working properly since it was installed, and I had to take it back to the point of origin to see if we could improve it. It is better now, but still not up to the standards of what one would normally expect for an AC system. Oh, well! The process for securing the “permission to stay” document is moving along quite nicely now, thanks to the efforts of the local police commissar who is in charge of such things for the Lushnja district. Hopefully within a week or two I will have been granted the permit.

We are in the “election season” here in Albania, with July 3 being the projected date of national elections. I do spend a lot of time, even in America, thinking about politics. Here in Albania many people have the same perspective. There is here a general distrust of anything to do with national politics, and charges of corruption flow back and forth between the major political combatants and their parties. I have been unable to verify the exact number of political parties in Albania, but I have been told that there may be as many as ninety. Some time back I heard the figure sixty-five, which in itself boggles the imagination in a country one-third the size of the US state of Oregon. With the run-up to the elections significant things happen.

The electric power situation here has been vastly improved for the past 1 ½ to 2 months. We have gone from being without power for six hours per day, to having power twenty-four hours per day. We are also once again seeing much activity in road improvement, etc., both in our district and throughout the country. I am told that all of this is predicated on the upcoming elections. We’ll see what things are like after the elections.

I have been asked by the church in Tirana to meet with them each Sunday evening during the summer and help them learn to sing in four-part harmony. Traditional singing in parts here usually means virtually identical notes sung in different octaves, so it is a real challenge to transition into singing four-part harmony. I was sure to make clear as we began the project that God listens differently than we do. He listens to the hearts first and the voices second.

On one of my trips into Tirana I was involved in a small “fender bender”. I won’t go into detail, but found myself taking the blame, though I was not at fault. Everything is fine, the van is repaired, and the insurance worked (to the surprise of some of my Albanian friends).

I was asked by the US Embassy to serve in a “warden’s” capacity for the Lushnja district, helping to identify US citizens and verify information they previously shared with the Embassy. I was glad to assist, and may be called on to serve in a somewhat permanent way in the capacity of district warden.

On June 12 I took a group of eleven from here to meet with the church in Fier for their worship. They meet in the afternoon, so we were able to worship here in the morning before going down to Fier. It was a good experience for all. Our group outnumbered the ones from Fier 2 to1, and it gave our people a good feeling to be able to encourage the group there in this way.

Mirupafshim Për Tani (Goodbye for now)

Thank you so much for your interest in what God is doing here in Lushnja, Albania. Sometimes it gets frustrating that we have not seen more progress in the almost three years since this work began. That sentiment is put in perspective, however, by a comment shared with me which was made by a missionary in Africa concerning his work there: “About the only thing we accomplished in the first five years is that we stayed.” My plan when I came here was to stay at least five years, and at this point that goal has not changed. If God wants me here longer, or elsewhere sooner, I am open to that. In the meantime, please pray that I will glorify only God and not myself in the work attempted.

In Jesus’ arms,


Tom


July 2005

Correction And Observations

I was looking back over the last newsletter and discovered an incorrect statement I made therein. In reporting on the fact that we were coming up to elections here in Albania, I offered my perceptions of that event. I intended to say “I do not spend a lot of time, even in America, thinking about politics.” However, I left out the “not” in what I wrote. Like most people anywhere in the world, I don’t think much about politics unless the political situation is having a direct negative effect on me. Having made that correction, allow me to give some observations about the elections here in Albania. The party in power did not win the election nationally, and the district of Lushnja voted in majority for the major challenging party. Yet, almost everyone with whom I speak here is unhappy with the outcome of the elections. Sounds a bit like the “silent majority” issue of a few years back in the U.S., doesn’t it? Only time will tell what effects the change in government will bring about.

Comings and Goings

Early in the month we were invited to attend a lecture at the church in Tirana dealing with the subject of sexuality from a Christian standpoint, presented by a visiting American sex therapist. Its intended audience was teenagers, and the goal was to encourage abstinence. Nine young people from our area went, including two young men whom I had not met before. They were friends of one our members, and he invited them along. I discovered very quickly that inappropriate concepts on this subject are not confined to Americans alone. I was very glad, however, to see that the young people involved with the church here agreed, for the most part, with the perspective of the presenter.

The Leje Qëndrimi (permission to stay) saga continues. I received a visit from the police commissar, telling me that I needed to come see him at police headquarters. I learned that three of the documents presented in this process needed to be changed in some way, either updated or notarized. I have updated the documents and delivered them to the commissar. We will see now what the time line is, as the documents must go from here to Fier, then to Tirana, yet again.

My primary perspective in my work here has been to “make disciples”, not necessarily create a big church. I believe strongly that this is the way to establish an ongoing body of believers anywhere. It is encouraging to me to see that there are a number of leaders in the church who are beginning to rethink the “mega church” concept, and focus more on building Christ into the individuals. I realize that such focus is not always what financial supporters want to see. If one is putting money into anything, “return on the dollar” is usually the measure of success, and the initiative for continuing involvement. Since the beginning of the church, however, the Lord has called us to live by a different standard than that by which the world lives, in every aspect of our lives.

Two individuals are coming from America to spend a bit of time with the work here in Lushnja. Doug Davis, one of my most valued encouragers over the past several years, will be one of those. The other is Myrna Rockwell, whom I have come to appreciate very much over the past couple of years. Both are from the Portland, OR area – Doug from the Metro church in Gresham, and Myrna from the Eastside church in Portland. A good deal of my time of late has been spent in preparing for their arrivals, Myrna on July 28 and Doug on July 30. Quality housing for short term stays is hard to come by. The hotel in which I lived for a month after my arrival here is no longer a hotel, but a kindergarten. The more decent hotels are pretty expensive for more than one or two nights. In the past I have been able to find private housing in vacant homes for those who came. It seems that now, though, people are getting into the “market economy” mentality and are not wanting to rent for less than a year to outsiders. Doug will be staying with me, but finding an acceptable place close in to the center of the city for Myrna has been more difficult. Yesterday, however, I finalized that quest, though it is not the ideal, by any means.

It is interesting, and encouraging, to walk through the city and have people speak to me and call me by name whom I have never met face to face. I try to greet people as I walk, and I do know enough people throughout the city that I guess my name has been shared from person to person. One jovial older gentleman (who was a part of the communist government of the past) delights in greeting me and checking on my progress in the Albanian language.

A good quantity of people spends most of their time begging, and training their children in the same activity. Quite a number of the children have approached me, but I no longer give them money. Many of the Albanians have discouraged me from doing so, and I have seen small children take the money given them and go buy, and smoke, cigarettes. So I will only buy something for them to eat, with instructions to the shopkeepers that they are not to exchange with the children for cash what I buy. At times there are five or six of them waiting for me as I go between my home and the office. Poverty has a whole different meaning for me here than in America. I’m sure I was living in an “ivory tower” of sorts throughout my life, and didn’t see a lot of what was around me. I am trying to learn to see with the eyes of Jesus. I know that money or material things will not provide what people really need, but some of those issues must be dealt with in order to have people’s attention. Please pray that I will have wisdom in all ways as I seek to serve the Lord here, or elsewhere.

Toward the end of the month the weather turned hot, with the high temperature for the period registering at 104 degrees. Hotter than what I am used to, or can appreciate and enjoy. Several other days approached the 100 degree mark, and it continues to be quite warm. I certainly am appreciative of having been able to secure air-conditioning for both the office and my home. Again, though, I am a bit embarrassed at my search for comfort when compared with our Lord. He left heaven, with all that implies, to come to live at a time and in a place where creature-comforts such as we now enjoy were all but non-existent. Lord, forgive me when I complain!!

Appreciation

Thank you again, all of you, for you interest and participation in this ministry. I covet your prayers above all else. I do not understand at all times what God is seeking to do in and with my life. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really understand it, but I am trying to be submissive to it. If we can learn to be submissive though we do not understand the “why”, God can certainly do more with us, and we will be more at peace within ourselves. That is knowing the “peace of God that passes understanding”. May God help us all in that endeavor!

Surrounded by His love,

Tom
July 2005

Correction And Observations

I was looking back over the last newsletter and discovered an incorrect statement I made therein. In reporting on the fact that we were coming up to elections here in Albania, I offered my perceptions of that event. I intended to say “I do not spend a lot of time, even in America, thinking about politics.” However, I left out the “not” in what I wrote. Like most people anywhere in the world, I don’t think much about politics unless the political situation is having a direct negative effect on me. Having made that correction, allow me to give some observations about the elections here in Albania. The party in power did not win the election nationally, and the district of Lushnja voted in majority for the major challenging party. Yet, almost everyone with whom I speak here is unhappy with the outcome of the elections. Sounds a bit like the “silent majority” issue of a few years back in the U.S., doesn’t it? Only time will tell what effects the change in government will bring about.

Comings and Goings

Early in the month we were invited to attend a lecture at the church in Tirana dealing with the subject of sexuality from a Christian standpoint, presented by a visiting American sex therapist. Its intended audience was teenagers, and the goal was to encourage abstinence. Nine young people from our area went, including two young men whom I had not met before. They were friends of one our members, and he invited them along. I discovered very quickly that inappropriate concepts on this subject are not confined to Americans alone. I was very glad, however, to see that the young people involved with the church here agreed, for the most part, with the perspective of the presenter.

The Leje Qëndrimi (permission to stay) saga continues. I received a visit from the police commissar, telling me that I needed to come see him at police headquarters. I learned that three of the documents presented in this process needed to be changed in some way, either updated or notarized. I have updated the documents and delivered them to the commissar. We will see now what the time line is, as the documents must go from here to Fier, then to Tirana, yet again.

My primary perspective in my work here has been to “make disciples”, not necessarily create a big church. I believe strongly that this is the way to establish an ongoing body of believers anywhere. It is encouraging to me to see that there are a number of leaders in the church who are beginning to rethink the “mega church” concept, and focus more on building Christ into the individuals. I realize that such focus is not always what financial supporters want to see. If one is putting money into anything, “return on the dollar” is usually the measure of success, and the initiative for continuing involvement. Since the beginning of the church, however, the Lord has called us to live by a different standard than that by which the world lives, in every aspect of our lives.

Two individuals are coming from America to spend a bit of time with the work here in Lushnja. Doug Davis, one of my most valued encouragers over the past several years, will be one of those. The other is Myrna Rockwell, whom I have come to appreciate very much over the past couple of years. Both are from the Portland, OR area – Doug from the Metro church in Gresham, and Myrna from the Eastside church in Portland. A good deal of my time of late has been spent in preparing for their arrivals, Myrna on July 28 and Doug on July 30. Quality housing for short term stays is hard to come by. The hotel in which I lived for a month after my arrival here is no longer a hotel, but a kindergarten. The more decent hotels are pretty expensive for more than one or two nights. In the past I have been able to find private housing in vacant homes for those who came. It seems that now, though, people are getting into the “market economy” mentality and are not wanting to rent for less than a year to outsiders. Doug will be staying with me, but finding an acceptable place close in to the center of the city for Myrna has been more difficult. Yesterday, however, I finalized that quest, though it is not the ideal, by any means.

It is interesting, and encouraging, to walk through the city and have people speak to me and call me by name whom I have never met face to face. I try to greet people as I walk, and I do know enough people throughout the city that I guess my name has been shared from person to person. One jovial older gentleman (who was a part of the communist government of the past) delights in greeting me and checking on my progress in the Albanian language.

A good quantity of people spends most of their time begging, and training their children in the same activity. Quite a number of the children have approached me, but I no longer give them money. Many of the Albanians have discouraged me from doing so, and I have seen small children take the money given them and go buy, and smoke, cigarettes. So I will only buy something for them to eat, with instructions to the shopkeepers that they are not to exchange with the children for cash what I buy. At times there are five or six of them waiting for me as I go between my home and the office. Poverty has a whole different meaning for me here than in America. I’m sure I was living in an “ivory tower” of sorts throughout my life, and didn’t see a lot of what was around me. I am trying to learn to see with the eyes of Jesus. I know that money or material things will not provide what people really need, but some of those issues must be dealt with in order to have people’s attention. Please pray that I will have wisdom in all ways as I seek to serve the Lord here, or elsewhere.

Toward the end of the month the weather turned hot, with the high temperature for the period registering at 104 degrees. Hotter than what I am used to, or can appreciate and enjoy. Several other days approached the 100 degree mark, and it continues to be quite warm. I certainly am appreciative of having been able to secure air-conditioning for both the office and my home. Again, though, I am a bit embarrassed at my search for comfort when compared with our Lord. He left heaven, with all that implies, to come to live at a time and in a place where creature-comforts such as we now enjoy were all but non-existent. Lord, forgive me when I complain!!

Appreciation

Thank you again, all of you, for you interest and participation in this ministry. I covet your prayers above all else. I do not understand at all times what God is seeking to do in and with my life. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really understand it, but I am trying to be submissive to it. If we can learn to be submissive though we do not understand the “why”, God can certainly do more with us, and we will be more at peace within ourselves. That is knowing the “peace of God that passes understanding”. May God help us all in that endeavor!

Surrounded by His love,

Tom

Life Today In Albania

In a previous newsletter I mentioned that elections were being held here. The controlling party has changed, but none of the campaign-promised changes have taken place. I have read several different accounts of Albanian political observers and they point out that some really major changes must take place before Albania can move ahead much further than where we are now. At the present time the big issue is that the state-owned electrical company is all but bankrupt, reservoirs are all but empty, and for a good part of every day electricity is all but non-existent. From 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. we are without power at the office, and then again later it can go off for an hour or two. The last two nights the electricity in my neighborhood has gone off just as I approach my house, and it stays off for 1-2 hours. Many of our days are without electricity for twelve hours. I have learned to get along pretty well with candles and a battery-powered lantern for the normal things, but it is certainly different than living in the Northwest U.S. where ample power has been a part of my life for so long. One writer observed that the two major political parties (there are 133) will protest against one another regularly in the major square of Tirana, the capital city, but neither party has ever protested against the lack of power, lack of adequate jobs or corruption in the government. In Albania, a country of about 3.3 million people, almost one-third of the population lives below the poverty level. Certainly we must be praying about these conditions.

Other problems that must be dealt with before progress can be made towards joining the European Union are: 1. The confiscation of illegally owned guns. Albanians shoot at or into each other on far too frequent a basis; 2. Corruption at all levels of government, including the police and school administrations; 3. Contraband goods; 4. Trafficking in human slavery, usually for sexual purposes. All of these things exist everywhere in Albania, and detract from the quality of life.

A Beautiful Body Forming
God is doing marvelous things here. It is such a blessing to see the church, small though we are, really beginning to bond together in love and enjoy one another’s company. Please pray that the relatives of our members may be impressed with what they see happening in their loved one, and seek to have the same changes in their lives. “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)  Pray that our love for brothers and sisters, no matter where we are, will grow and others will see Jesus.

Lifting Jesus high,


Tom

November 2005

The Passing Of Time
Too much time has passed since I last sent out a report. Many things have happened since that time, including the blessing of having Doug Davis and Myrna Rockwell (both from the Portland area) come to visit and work with me for a time here in Lushnja. The fruit of their time is still being realized. Just today one of the students with whom Myrna originally studied told me that she is thinking of being baptized. There are some additional hurdles to get over, but her heart has been touched with the love of God in Christ. The members of the church here were greatly impressed with Doug and Myrna. Prior to Myrna’s leaving some of the members got together and bought her a memorial plaque of Albania.

Myrna with Alma, Arten and Silvana

While Doug and Myrna were here we shared some outings to see some of the Albanian historical sites. Travel in Albania is not at all like in America, and it can be a real challenge getting from place to place. Doug described the roads in Albania, including the major highways, as being somewhat like the forest service roads of America. But to see buildings, or the remains thereof, that date back over 2000 years stirs the imagination.Permission Granted!
I did finally receive my Leje Qendrimi (permission to stay). But recently, when I made a trip to Macedonia and Greece with the van, the border guards at both the place where I exited and the place where I reentered Albania gave me some problems about the document. It seems they felt it was not official-looking enough because the document was photo-copied, and that I should get another one from the police here in Lushnja. I went back to the man who issued it to me, explained what I had experienced at the borders, and was told by him to have the border guards call the police secretary in Lushnja if they have any problems. What that translates to is that if there are problems, I will be stuck at the border for indefinite periods while things are straightened out. But it does feel very good to know that I am in complete accord with the law. That, in turn, gives me more desire to see God’s word spread here.

The Family Grows
What a joy it is when people say “Yes” to God’s message of love in Christ Jesus. Recently two new sisters were added to the body of Christ, and they are both truly on fire for the Lord. Atlanta Nezha was first introduced to me by Altin Koçi, one of our members. He had asked Atlanta to come for a coffee with the two of us. She accepted, but made it clear that she did not want to talk about things religious, only wanted to talk to an American. We spent an hour together on that occasion, and then she did come to our worship service. Gradually she became pretty regular in attendance, and was bringing others, including her brother, with her. On one occasion she brought two school friends, and in introducing me to them, explained that she had wanted them to “come see what we do in (Can I say ‘our’?) church.” Then one Sunday she walked in and informed me that she was thinking of becoming my sister. We spent considerable time discussing the commitment involved in such a decision, and she stated this was her heart’s desire. Since her baptism she has gone away to attend university in Vlorë, a city to the south of us. Virgil Jackson, the missionary there, tells me that she is in attendance every week, and usually brings some friends with her. She misses the church here, but is glad to be in the kingdom.

At about the same time Bojkena Selmanaj also made a decision to put Jesus on in baptism. Bojkena had been a student in the World English Institute course with us a couple of years ago, and we reactivated her involvement when Doug and Myrna were here in August. She has been like a sponge in soaking up the truths about Jesus’ love for her, and her heart is as tender and moldable as any I have ever encountered. She is only fifteen years old, but has such a great desire to serve God, and to be right with Him in all ways. She is continually bringing a number of others with her when she comes to worship. She will be a great tool in the hands of our Lord. One of her dreams is to go to America and study law at Harvard University, then come back to Albania. An ambitious dream, but Bojkena might just be able to pull it off.

 

The    Lord’s Love For Lushnja

Tom Bonner

February 2005

My Apologies

You will never know how many times I have tried to send a newsletter, and been thwarted in the attempt.  I could give you a long list of reasons, but you probably don’t want to hear them anyway, so I won’t.  Suffice it to say some of the very long delay between reports has been partly due to technical things, and partly due to “Tom” things.  I hereby commit to doing better in the future.  Many of you have supported this ministry faithfully from the beginning, and you certainly deserve better communication about the work than has been the case lately.  I hesitate to make promises about future frequency of communication, and resolutions often go amiss.  But, please know that I love and appreciate all of you, and your great patience.
 

The van purchased for the work here continues to be a mixed bag of blessing/frustration.  It is certainly a blessing in the times when I must, or desire to, make trips into Tirana or some of the other cities around.  The air conditioning I had installed in Athens, Greece has not functioned correctly from the beginning.  The owner of the shop where I had the work done seems ready to make things right, but that means that in the spring I must take another long drive down to Greece.  Anybody want to go along for the ride?  Labor on the van, when I need to have anything done to it, is relatively inexpensive.  Parts and other necessities have a larger price on them, however.  Oil, for example, is more than $6 per liter, which is a little over a quart.  The van holds ten liters, so when I change the oil it costs more than $60 just for the oil.

Most of my travel over the past several months has been into Tirana for the purpose of working with a group of members there to learn to sing four-part harmony in Albanian.  Most singing in the church here is done in unison, as people just are not that familiar with any other type of singing.  The church in Tirana has a dream of utilizing the group I have been working with to teach the church there to sing in harmony, and then to use the group to make a CD which can be made available to the other churches in Albania.  One night as I was returning from a practice session, I was “kidnapped” by a policeman.  I was flagged down by this policeman, but when I stopped he did not come to the driver’s side of the vehicle, but began trying to open the passenger door.  The door was locked, and all of my stuff was in the seat and floorboard on that side of the van.  He became very irate as I tried to talk with him through the closed door and window, so I opened the door.  He informed me he wanted me to take him to a village near Lushnja, so I hesitantly transferred my things to the second seat and he climbed in and began to make himself “at home”.  He made 5 or 6 very angry phone calls, with yelling and cursing, on his cellular, then insisted that I pull into a karburant (service station) so he could look up another number.  When we got over to the main highway he tried to get me to drive faster than I was, sixty kilometers per hour, which was the posted speed limit.  I refused, telling him I would not drive over the speed limit.  Several times he tried to hurry me up, and I told him I would not drive faster, but would let him out if he was not happy with my driving.  Finally he had me pull over and he got out.  As he slammed the door he was muttering, “Gjashtëdhjetë, gjashtëdhjetë,” which is the Albanian word for “sixty”.

continue to have excellent studies with the students, especially those who are school teachers.  They are telling me that when they complete the WEI materials, they want to continue with me in some other study.  I will have to evaluate the wisdom of that, and the progress of the spiritual process.  I would like to ask you to pray for Ariana, Silvana, Alma, Anjeza, Erid, Marsel, Saimir and Juxhin.  We have many excellent discussions about spiritual matters, and I pray that they will become members of God’s family at some time in the future.  A couple of them are involved with another church here in town, and some are from Muslim families.  There are some issues that have come up in our studies that have been eye-opening for them.  Alma, in particular, has expressed an interest in being baptized.  She is married, the mother of two children, a school teacher, and has been of the Muslim faith all her life, as is her husband.  There are some roadblocks to her decision, and I ask that you will pray for the Lord to work in her heart to overcome Satan’s efforts to discourage her.

Seeking Albanian Worker For Lushnja

One thing that has been a goal since I came here is to get a competent Albanian to come and work in Lushnja.  This is not a “destination” city, and I have had little success getting people interested.  Not much goes on socially or commercially here, and people have little to draw them into the area.  I ask that you pray for the Lord to send someone who can become a leader in the church here.  I did have a conversation recently with a young man from Albania (Tirana) who is a student at the Bible school in Athens that is affiliated with the Sunset International Institute of Biblical Studies.  He finished in December, but has some problems with coming back into the country due to the compulsory military service imposed on all young men.  If it is to become a reality, financial support will also have to be raised for him.  Please keep this whole situation in your prayers, as well.

Those of you who have known me over the years will be very familiar with the name of Fran.  I am saddened to have to share with you that she passed from this life on September 16.  She had been battling lymphoma for a number of years, enduring chemotherapy and radiation treatments in an effort to try to eliminate the disease.  But, after a six-week stay in the hospital, she lost the battle.  Thankfully, all of our children were able to be with her at the time, and sang and prayed with her prior to her departure.  The children, as well as the elders of the Metro congregation, encouraged me to come to the States for both my benefit and the benefit of the family.  The elders set about seeking to raise the funds to make this possible, and I was able to make the trip.  Many of you contributed to make that trip a reality, and I thank you so very much.  I also had to have some surgery (hernia repairs) while in the States on this trip.  I had some difficulties after my return to Albania, but all that seems to have righted itself.

Young Preachers

It is encouraging that two of our young men here are wanting to preach.  I am trying not to be too human in my evaluation of their personal motivations, and am willing to let the Spirit of the Lord work with them about that.  These two young men are Altin Koçi and Besmir Bërboti.  I will share more about them later, but am attaching some photos of them, and of the group who met for worship on February 6.
 

 

The church at Lushnja

 

Summer Campaign

One of the most effective ways of reaching people here has proven to be helping them improve their English.  Campaigns during the summer provide the opportunity for much contact, especially with the younger people.  I am contemplating a campaign this summer, and am looking for four interested parties to join with me in this project of teaching.  It might be possible that you cannot come for four weeks, but would be willing to come for two weeks.  Your expenses will not be paid, and it will be hard work.  But it is also one of the most rewarding experiences many people have ever had, and some teachers commit year after year to helping spread the gospel in this way.  If you are interested in helping here in Lushnja, please contact me by email as soon as possible.  We are looking, most likely, at the month of August as the time for the campaign. tommetro@comcast.net

 

In the hands of Jesus,

 

Tom

March – April 2005

Greetings in the name of him who carries us over the troubled waters of life, Jesus Christ.

Reflection
I read something recently that caused, and is still causing, a great deal of reflection in my life. It had to do with recalling the challenging and disappointing times of life, and the almost universal inclination to wish we had not had to face such things. The pain of physical and emotional suffering is certainly never enjoyable. However, it is at such moments that characters are built and strengths for the future trials of life are acquired. It is certain that all of us can think of situations we would rather have not faced. In that recollection, however, we can also think of ways in which we have been benefited, perhaps in far greater degree than what we have suffered or lost. As I think back on my life of the past sixty-plus years, painful memories return. As I think of the past two and one-half years that I have spent in Albania, I can also identify things I would rather have not gone through, and some of them are very current and present in my life. This much I know, however. Our God does not allow his children to face unendurable temptations to turn away from the path of life, but always provides escape routes. That does not mean we do not suffer the things addressed above, but it does mean that always we can grow and glorify the Lord if we will keep our focus on Him who gives us life. I don’t always do that, and I fail to be who I should be in those times. But forgiveness, and strength for the battles of life, is always available to us. Much of the technique of spiritual survival is acquired in the most difficult events of life. Praise God for difficulties!!


Bridge Building
In March I made a trip to Zagreb, Croatia. The purpose of the trip was to help in the effecting of communication between two elements of the church. The terms generally applied to these two groups are the “mainline” church, and the former International Church of Christ. I don’t like labels, and I also know the Lord grieves over the divisions we humans create between ourselves. It is to be hoped that any attempts to build communication and bridges between brothers and sisters in Christ can only be seen as positive by all. I was pleased to find out when I got there that there was more communication and mutual involvement already in existence than I had understood. I met some wonderful Christians from both “sides”, and believe that there are many opportunities ahead for God to be glorified by the acceptance in love, each group of the other.

While in Croatia I also got to reconnect with Tom and Sandra Sibley. Tom and I served together on staff with the church in Vancouver, WA a number of years ago. The Sibleys have been serving the Lord in Zagreb for six years now, and feel as if it is where they will spend the rest of their years.

I also traveled by train to the other side of Croatia to visit with Besmir Bërboti, the young man from here who is attending school with the goal in mind to come back and work for the Lord with the church here in Lushnjë. He has some real challenges ahead of him to complete this dream, so I would ask that you include him in your prayers, especially that Satan would be held at bay through this difficult time.

Not Far From The Kingdom
There continues to be hope and joy in my heart over the nearness to the kingdom of some of those with whom I have been studying. Sometimes, when I don’t understand why they are delaying, I find myself feeling that perhaps they really do not understand the commitment part of this decision, though I have worked very hard to try to communicate it to them. I certainly will not try to rush people into an action that their hearts have not led them to. Then there are others, both since I have been in Albania as well as throughout my ministry, who have chosen to be baptized but who have failed to follow through on living for the Lord. I am reminded of the parable of our Lord which taught that saying “yes” but failing to obey is useless; at the same time, when one says “no” but later does what was asked, the Lord’s will is done. I pray not only for people to make the right choices about entering the kingdom, but that those of us who are children of God through God’s grace and our obedience will always say “yes” to the call we have received.

Issues Of Concern
I have been waging some “red tape” wars with various elements of Albanian documentation processes. I still am try to secure my leje qëndrimi (permission to stay), which would be a lot more comfortable than being an “illegal alien”. I have had no difficulties of any kind as a result of this status, but I want to be in full compliance with the requirements of Albanian law. In addition, I have been trying to secure non-profit status for the World English Institute office, so that taxes are not imposed. It seems we will have to pay a cleaning tax for streets and garbage collection (about $400 per year) and a sign tax (about $15 per year). In addition, I have been trying to get the church registered as a foundation, that status under which all churches have fallen until now. The Albanian government, however, is now trying to draft a new law governing all religious organizations. The exact reasons for this are not clear, but could involve a number of things. First, Albania wants eventually to gain admittance to the European Union, and this kind of law will likely be a prerequisite to that taking place. Secondly, there have been a number of suicides in recent months within the religious community, mostly young people. This is causing some concern in all quarters. Thirdly, four groups are recognized by the government as religions, and they might be putting some pressure on the government to step in and try to regulate the numerous groups that have come here that are not officially recognized. My own endeavors for the foundation status are hampered by the fact that only one of the active members of the church here is of “accountable age” (18) and thus able to sign legal documents. Please keep all of this in your prayers in the days and months ahead.

The “Close To Macedonia” Call
In Acts 16:9 the apostle Paul had a vision during the night. It was “of a man from Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” In New Testament times it is thought that what is now Albania was a part of Macedonia. I am still looking for people to come and work in teaching Bible and English here in Lushnja during the month of August. At this point, I know of two who are planning to come, one for two weeks, and one is going to try to be here for three weeks. I do not come to you in a vision, as in Acts, but I am in effect begging for workers. Dick Ady, one of the elders in my sponsoring congregation and the author of the World English Institute materials, is working with me to try to secure workers. Would you answer the Albanian call? Who knows who might be in heaven because of your decision to do so? May God bless you as you contemplate this request, and the potential for eternity if you accept. If you are interested in answering the call, please email either Dick Ady or me. Dick’s email address is weiady@aol.com. Mine, of course, is tommetro@comcast.net.

God’s Blessings
May God be with you as you seek to serve in your own ministry, whatever that may be. If you do not have a ministry, find one! God did not call us all to the same task, but he did call us all to serve in the kingdom. Teaching children, preparing meals, visiting the sick, etc., are all ministries. However God has given you talents, use them to his glory.

Because we are loved from above,

Tom


May-June 2005


A Growing Family

I am pleased and thrilled to tell you that we have two new sisters in Christ. On May 29 Silvana Eksarko and Alma Kajdo were baptized into Christ in the Adriatic Sea. Both have been studying with me for more than a year, and have become my friends even before they became my sisters. They are sisters-in-law to each other (Alma is married to Silvana’s brother), and were both raised as nominal Moslems. Prior to their baptisms I asked each to share who Jesus was and what he meant in their lives. Both had beautiful statements, summed up in the words of Alma: “I had known about God, but I did not know about Jesus. Now I know that He is my Savior.” The ladies are both school teachers, and Alma has two children (see attached pictures). Silvana’s husband works in Greece and is seldom in the country. Much zeal and enthusiasm is brought to our small body here with the addition of these two ladies.

Silvana Eksarko and Alma Kajdo

Also in the “growing family” category is my own physical family. Ava Faith was born June 1 in Vancouver, WA to Trey and Jenn. This brings to an even dozen the number of grandchildren I have, divided equally gender-wise. “Cheaper by the dozen” is really true when spread out between four families.

Looking To The Future

It has always been my desire that the work here have Albanian leadership. Such has been hard to come by. All of our members are young in the faith, and most of them are in their teen years. There is a possibility that there is a young Albanian man, a graduate of the Sunset International Bible Institute school in Athens, who might be available for the work here. Of course, the church would have to approve of him and he would have to desire to work here in Lushnja. When those two items are dealt with, there is then the question of support. I am beginning now to look for churches or individuals who would be willing to commit to helping in the support of a full-time national worker for the church here. Would you be one of those people or congregations? I believe God wants to do great things here, if we are willing to cooperate with Him. May we join hands in this effort?

This And That

The first part of May I made a quick trip to Athens to secure service on the AC I had installed in our van. It had not been working properly since it was installed, and I had to take it back to the point of origin to see if we could improve it. It is better now, but still not up to the standards of what one would normally expect for an AC system. Oh, well! The process for securing the “permission to stay” document is moving along quite nicely now, thanks to the efforts of the local police commissar who is in charge of such things for the Lushnja district. Hopefully within a week or two I will have been granted the permit.

We are in the “election season” here in Albania, with July 3 being the projected date of national elections. I do spend a lot of time, even in America, thinking about politics. Here in Albania many people have the same perspective. There is here a general distrust of anything to do with national politics, and charges of corruption flow back and forth between the major political combatants and their parties. I have been unable to verify the exact number of political parties in Albania, but I have been told that there may be as many as ninety. Some time back I heard the figure sixty-five, which in itself boggles the imagination in a country one-third the size of the US state of Oregon. With the run-up to the elections significant things happen.

The electric power situation here has been vastly improved for the past 1 ½ to 2 months. We have gone from being without power for six hours per day, to having power twenty-four hours per day. We are also once again seeing much activity in road improvement, etc., both in our district and throughout the country. I am told that all of this is predicated on the upcoming elections. We’ll see what things are like after the elections.

I have been asked by the church in Tirana to meet with them each Sunday evening during the summer and help them learn to sing in four-part harmony. Traditional singing in parts here usually means virtually identical notes sung in different octaves, so it is a real challenge to transition into singing four-part harmony. I was sure to make clear as we began the project that God listens differently than we do. He listens to the hearts first and the voices second.

On one of my trips into Tirana I was involved in a small “fender bender”. I won’t go into detail, but found myself taking the blame, though I was not at fault. Everything is fine, the van is repaired, and the insurance worked (to the surprise of some of my Albanian friends).

I was asked by the US Embassy to serve in a “warden’s” capacity for the Lushnja district, helping to identify US citizens and verify information they previously shared with the Embassy. I was glad to assist, and may be called on to serve in a somewhat permanent way in the capacity of district warden.

On June 12 I took a group of eleven from here to meet with the church in Fier for their worship. They meet in the afternoon, so we were able to worship here in the morning before going down to Fier. It was a good experience for all. Our group outnumbered the ones from Fier 2 to1, and it gave our people a good feeling to be able to encourage the group there in this way.

Mirupafshim Për Tani (Goodbye for now)

Thank you so much for your interest in what God is doing here in Lushnja, Albania. Sometimes it gets frustrating that we have not seen more progress in the almost three years since this work began. That sentiment is put in perspective, however, by a comment shared with me which was made by a missionary in Africa concerning his work there: “About the only thing we accomplished in the first five years is that we stayed.” My plan when I came here was to stay at least five years, and at this point that goal has not changed. If God wants me here longer, or elsewhere sooner, I am open to that. In the meantime, please pray that I will glorify only God and not myself in the work attempted.

In Jesus’ arms,


Tom


July 2005

Correction And Observations

I was looking back over the last newsletter and discovered an incorrect statement I made therein. In reporting on the fact that we were coming up to elections here in Albania, I offered my perceptions of that event. I intended to say “I do not spend a lot of time, even in America, thinking about politics.” However, I left out the “not” in what I wrote. Like most people anywhere in the world, I don’t think much about politics unless the political situation is having a direct negative effect on me. Having made that correction, allow me to give some observations about the elections here in Albania. The party in power did not win the election nationally, and the district of Lushnja voted in majority for the major challenging party. Yet, almost everyone with whom I speak here is unhappy with the outcome of the elections. Sounds a bit like the “silent majority” issue of a few years back in the U.S., doesn’t it? Only time will tell what effects the change in government will bring about.

Comings and Goings

Early in the month we were invited to attend a lecture at the church in Tirana dealing with the subject of sexuality from a Christian standpoint, presented by a visiting American sex therapist. Its intended audience was teenagers, and the goal was to encourage abstinence. Nine young people from our area went, including two young men whom I had not met before. They were friends of one our members, and he invited them along. I discovered very quickly that inappropriate concepts on this subject are not confined to Americans alone. I was very glad, however, to see that the young people involved with the church here agreed, for the most part, with the perspective of the presenter.

The Leje Qëndrimi (permission to stay) saga continues. I received a visit from the police commissar, telling me that I needed to come see him at police headquarters. I learned that three of the documents presented in this process needed to be changed in some way, either updated or notarized. I have updated the documents and delivered them to the commissar. We will see now what the time line is, as the documents must go from here to Fier, then to Tirana, yet again.

My primary perspective in my work here has been to “make disciples”, not necessarily create a big church. I believe strongly that this is the way to establish an ongoing body of believers anywhere. It is encouraging to me to see that there are a number of leaders in the church who are beginning to rethink the “mega church” concept, and focus more on building Christ into the individuals. I realize that such focus is not always what financial supporters want to see. If one is putting money into anything, “return on the dollar” is usually the measure of success, and the initiative for continuing involvement. Since the beginning of the church, however, the Lord has called us to live by a different standard than that by which the world lives, in every aspect of our lives.

Two individuals are coming from America to spend a bit of time with the work here in Lushnja. Doug Davis, one of my most valued encouragers over the past several years, will be one of those. The other is Myrna Rockwell, whom I have come to appreciate very much over the past couple of years. Both are from the Portland, OR area – Doug from the Metro church in Gresham, and Myrna from the Eastside church in Portland. A good deal of my time of late has been spent in preparing for their arrivals, Myrna on July 28 and Doug on July 30. Quality housing for short term stays is hard to come by. The hotel in which I lived for a month after my arrival here is no longer a hotel, but a kindergarten. The more decent hotels are pretty expensive for more than one or two nights. In the past I have been able to find private housing in vacant homes for those who came. It seems that now, though, people are getting into the “market economy” mentality and are not wanting to rent for less than a year to outsiders. Doug will be staying with me, but finding an acceptable place close in to the center of the city for Myrna has been more difficult. Yesterday, however, I finalized that quest, though it is not the ideal, by any means.

It is interesting, and encouraging, to walk through the city and have people speak to me and call me by name whom I have never met face to face. I try to greet people as I walk, and I do know enough people throughout the city that I guess my name has been shared from person to person. One jovial older gentleman (who was a part of the communist government of the past) delights in greeting me and checking on my progress in the Albanian language.

A good quantity of people spends most of their time begging, and training their children in the same activity. Quite a number of the children have approached me, but I no longer give them money. Many of the Albanians have discouraged me from doing so, and I have seen small children take the money given them and go buy, and smoke, cigarettes. So I will only buy something for them to eat, with instructions to the shopkeepers that they are not to exchange with the children for cash what I buy. At times there are five or six of them waiting for me as I go between my home and the office. Poverty has a whole different meaning for me here than in America. I’m sure I was living in an “ivory tower” of sorts throughout my life, and didn’t see a lot of what was around me. I am trying to learn to see with the eyes of Jesus. I know that money or material things will not provide what people really need, but some of those issues must be dealt with in order to have people’s attention. Please pray that I will have wisdom in all ways as I seek to serve the Lord here, or elsewhere.

Toward the end of the month the weather turned hot, with the high temperature for the period registering at 104 degrees. Hotter than what I am used to, or can appreciate and enjoy. Several other days approached the 100 degree mark, and it continues to be quite warm. I certainly am appreciative of having been able to secure air-conditioning for both the office and my home. Again, though, I am a bit embarrassed at my search for comfort when compared with our Lord. He left heaven, with all that implies, to come to live at a time and in a place where creature-comforts such as we now enjoy were all but non-existent. Lord, forgive me when I complain!!

Appreciation

Thank you again, all of you, for you interest and participation in this ministry. I covet your prayers above all else. I do not understand at all times what God is seeking to do in and with my life. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really understand it, but I am trying to be submissive to it. If we can learn to be submissive though we do not understand the “why”, God can certainly do more with us, and we will be more at peace within ourselves. That is knowing the “peace of God that passes understanding”. May God help us all in that endeavor!

Surrounded by His love,

Tom

July 2005

Correction And Observations

I was looking back over the last newsletter and discovered an incorrect statement I made therein. In reporting on the fact that we were coming up to elections here in Albania, I offered my perceptions of that event. I intended to say “I do not spend a lot of time, even in America, thinking about politics.” However, I left out the “not” in what I wrote. Like most people anywhere in the world, I don’t think much about politics unless the political situation is having a direct negative effect on me. Having made that correction, allow me to give some observations about the elections here in Albania. The party in power did not win the election nationally, and the district of Lushnja voted in majority for the major challenging party. Yet, almost everyone with whom I speak here is unhappy with the outcome of the elections. Sounds a bit like the “silent majority” issue of a few years back in the U.S., doesn’t it? Only time will tell what effects the change in government will bring about.

Comings and Goings

Early in the month we were invited to attend a lecture at the church in Tirana dealing with the subject of sexuality from a Christian standpoint, presented by a visiting American sex therapist. Its intended audience was teenagers, and the goal was to encourage abstinence. Nine young people from our area went, including two young men whom I had not met before. They were friends of one our members, and he invited them along. I discovered very quickly that inappropriate concepts on this subject are not confined to Americans alone. I was very glad, however, to see that the young people involved with the church here agreed, for the most part, with the perspective of the presenter.

The Leje Qëndrimi (permission to stay) saga continues. I received a visit from the police commissar, telling me that I needed to come see him at police headquarters. I learned that three of the documents presented in this process needed to be changed in some way, either updated or notarized. I have updated the documents and delivered them to the commissar. We will see now what the time line is, as the documents must go from here to Fier, then to Tirana, yet again.

My primary perspective in my work here has been to “make disciples”, not necessarily create a big church. I believe strongly that this is the way to establish an ongoing body of believers anywhere. It is encouraging to me to see that there are a number of leaders in the church who are beginning to rethink the “mega church” concept, and focus more on building Christ into the individuals. I realize that such focus is not always what financial supporters want to see. If one is putting money into anything, “return on the dollar” is usually the measure of success, and the initiative for continuing involvement. Since the beginning of the church, however, the Lord has called us to live by a different standard than that by which the world lives, in every aspect of our lives.

Two individuals are coming from America to spend a bit of time with the work here in Lushnja. Doug Davis, one of my most valued encouragers over the past several years, will be one of those. The other is Myrna Rockwell, whom I have come to appreciate very much over the past couple of years. Both are from the Portland, OR area – Doug from the Metro church in Gresham, and Myrna from the Eastside church in Portland. A good deal of my time of late has been spent in preparing for their arrivals, Myrna on July 28 and Doug on July 30. Quality housing for short term stays is hard to come by. The hotel in which I lived for a month after my arrival here is no longer a hotel, but a kindergarten. The more decent hotels are pretty expensive for more than one or two nights. In the past I have been able to find private housing in vacant homes for those who came. It seems that now, though, people are getting into the “market economy” mentality and are not wanting to rent for less than a year to outsiders. Doug will be staying with me, but finding an acceptable place close in to the center of the city for Myrna has been more difficult. Yesterday, however, I finalized that quest, though it is not the ideal, by any means.

It is interesting, and encouraging, to walk through the city and have people speak to me and call me by name whom I have never met face to face. I try to greet people as I walk, and I do know enough people throughout the city that I guess my name has been shared from person to person. One jovial older gentleman (who was a part of the communist government of the past) delights in greeting me and checking on my progress in the Albanian language.

A good quantity of people spends most of their time begging, and training their children in the same activity. Quite a number of the children have approached me, but I no longer give them money. Many of the Albanians have discouraged me from doing so, and I have seen small children take the money given them and go buy, and smoke, cigarettes. So I will only buy something for them to eat, with instructions to the shopkeepers that they are not to exchange with the children for cash what I buy. At times there are five or six of them waiting for me as I go between my home and the office. Poverty has a whole different meaning for me here than in America. I’m sure I was living in an “ivory tower” of sorts throughout my life, and didn’t see a lot of what was around me. I am trying to learn to see with the eyes of Jesus. I know that money or material things will not provide what people really need, but some of those issues must be dealt with in order to have people’s attention. Please pray that I will have wisdom in all ways as I seek to serve the Lord here, or elsewhere.

Toward the end of the month the weather turned hot, with the high temperature for the period registering at 104 degrees. Hotter than what I am used to, or can appreciate and enjoy. Several other days approached the 100 degree mark, and it continues to be quite warm. I certainly am appreciative of having been able to secure air-conditioning for both the office and my home. Again, though, I am a bit embarrassed at my search for comfort when compared with our Lord. He left heaven, with all that implies, to come to live at a time and in a place where creature-comforts such as we now enjoy were all but non-existent. Lord, forgive me when I complain!!

Appreciation

Thank you again, all of you, for you interest and participation in this ministry. I covet your prayers above all else. I do not understand at all times what God is seeking to do in and with my life. In fact, I’m not sure I ever really understand it, but I am trying to be submissive to it. If we can learn to be submissive though we do not understand the “why”, God can certainly do more with us, and we will be more at peace within ourselves. That is knowing the “peace of God that passes understanding”. May God help us all in that endeavor!

Surrounded by His love,

Tom


Doug and Myrna at Berat Apollonia


Tom at Butrint Medieval baptistry at Butrint


 

November 2005

The Passing Of Time
Too much time has passed since I last sent out a report. Many things have happened since that time, including the blessing of having Doug Davis and Myrna Rockwell (both from the Portland area) come to visit and work with me for a time here in Lushnja. The fruit of their time is still being realized. Just today one of the students with whom Myrna originally studied told me that she is thinking of being baptized. There are some additional hurdles to get over, but her heart has been touched with the love of God in Christ. The members of the church here were greatly impressed with Doug and Myrna. Prior to Myrna’s leaving some of the members got together and bought her a memorial plaque of Albania.

Myrna with Alma, Arten and Silvana

While Doug and Myrna were here we shared some outings to see some of the Albanian historical sites. Travel in Albania is not at all like in America, and it can be a real challenge getting from place to place. Doug described the roads in Albania, including the major highways, as being somewhat like the forest service roads of America. But to see buildings, or the remains thereof, that date back over 2000 years stirs the imagination.


 Tom at Butrint                                                  Medieval baptistry at Butrint


Permission Granted!
I did finally receive my Leje Qendrimi (permission to stay). But recently, when I made a trip to Macedonia and Greece with the van, the border guards at both the place where I exited and the place where I reentered Albania gave me some problems about the document. It seems they felt it was not official-looking enough because the document was photo-copied, and that I should get another one from the police here in Lushnja. I went back to the man who issued it to me, explained what I had experienced at the borders, and was told by him to have the border guards call the police secretary in Lushnja if they have any problems. What that translates to is that if there are problems, I will be stuck at the border for indefinite periods while things are straightened out. But it does feel very good to know that I am in complete accord with the law. That, in turn, gives me more desire to see God’s word spread here.

The Family Grows
What a joy it is when people say “Yes” to God’s message of love in Christ Jesus. Recently two new sisters were added to the body of Christ, and they are both truly on fire for the Lord. Atlanta Nezha was first introduced to me by Altin Koçi, one of our members. He had asked Atlanta to come for a coffee with the two of us. She accepted, but made it clear that she did not want to talk about things religious, only wanted to talk to an American. We spent an hour together on that occasion, and then she did come to our worship service. Gradually she became pretty regular in attendance, and was bringing others, including her brother, with her. On one occasion she brought two school friends, and in introducing me to them, explained that she had wanted them to “come see what we do in (Can I say ‘our’?) church.” Then one Sunday she walked in and informed me that she was thinking of becoming my sister. We spent considerable time discussing the commitment involved in such a decision, and she stated this was her heart’s desire. Since her baptism she has gone away to attend university in Vlorë, a city to the south of us. Virgil Jackson, the missionary there, tells me that she is in attendance every week, and usually brings some friends with her. She misses the church here, but is glad to be in the kingdom.

At about the same time Bojkena Selmanaj also made a decision to put Jesus on in baptism. Bojkena had been a student in the World English Institute course with us a couple of years ago, and we reactivated her involvement when Doug and Myrna were here in August. She has been like a sponge in soaking up the truths about Jesus’ love for her, and her heart is as tender and moldable as any I have ever encountered. She is only fifteen years old, but has such a great desire to serve God, and to be right with Him in all ways. She is continually bringing a number of others with her when she comes to worship. She will be a great tool in the hands of our Lord. One of her dreams is to go to America and study law at Harvard University, then come back to Albania. An ambitious dream, but Bojkena might just be able to pull it off.

Atlanta’s Joy In The Lord                                 Bojkena In The Birth Process 


Life Today In Albania

In a previous newsletter I mentioned that elections were being held here. The controlling party has changed, but none of the campaign-promised changes have taken place. I have read several different accounts of Albanian political observers and they point out that some really major changes must take place before Albania can move ahead much further than where we are now. At the present time the big issue is that the state-owned electrical company is all but bankrupt, reservoirs are all but empty, and for a good part of every day electricity is all but non-existent. From 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. we are without power at the office, and then again later it can go off for an hour or two. The last two nights the electricity in my neighborhood has gone off just as I approach my house, and it stays off for 1-2 hours. Many of our days are without electricity for twelve hours. I have learned to get along pretty well with candles and a battery-powered lantern for the normal things, but it is certainly different than living in the Northwest U.S. where ample power has been a part of my life for so long. One writer observed that the two major political parties (there are 133) will protest against one another regularly in the major square of Tirana, the capital city, but neither party has ever protested against the lack of power, lack of adequate jobs or corruption in the government. In Albania, a country of about 3.3 million people, almost one-third of the population lives below the poverty level. Certainly we must be praying about these conditions.

Other problems that must be dealt with before progress can be made towards joining the European Union are: 1. The confiscation of illegally owned guns. Albanians shoot at or into each other on far too frequent a basis; 2. Corruption at all levels of government, including the police and school administrations; 3. Contraband goods; 4. Trafficking in human slavery, usually for sexual purposes. All of these things exist everywhere in Albania, and detract from the quality of life.

A Beautiful Body Forming
God is doing marvelous things here. It is such a blessing to see the church, small though we are, really beginning to bond together in love and enjoy one another’s company. Please pray that the relatives of our members may be impressed with what they see happening in their loved one, and seek to have the same changes in their lives. “All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)  Pray that our love for brothers and sisters, no matter where we are, will grow and others will see Jesus.

Lifting Jesus high,

Tom

December ’05 – February ‘06

Cultivating Fruit
Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 3:6-7 is: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

I get upset with myself sometimes when I detect the attitude of thinking that I am building a great church here in Lushnja. It is God’s work! We don’t have great numbers or “great” people from the community, but we do have a great fellowship of believers who are learning more and more to love the Lord and each other. Recently I have been focusing on the fruit of the Spirit, that which God desires to put into us so that we will be like him, like Jesus, as we go about our lives here on the earth. For too much of my life, as I read and thought about the passage in Galatians 5 that enumerates the fruit, I have found myself being convicted of the lack in my life of certain fruit (a good thing), but deceived into thinking that by my own determination and strength I could bring about what needed to be added (a bad thought). In a study of the fruit of the Spirit with the church here, we have focused on the fact that what God wants to do in every Christian is create His character. That is what the fruit is, God’s character delineated. The problem is that we start with the last of the fruit (self-control) and think that by exercising it we can bring about the other eight fruit. Paul (God) builds on the other fruit, which is all the result of denying self, and self-control follows naturally when we are other-oriented.

Please pray that the Christians here will allow the Holy Spirit to produce God’s character in them. I am included in that request. It is really a blessing for me to watch the interaction of the new Christians in Lushnja with one another. There is genuine concern and love for each other, and a desire to help in whatever way possible. As I have stated on previous occasions, if my work here results in a body of people, regardless the size, who rely on God and are focused on one another, I will feel something great has been accomplished. Again I emphasize that it is God who gives the increase.

Prayer and Wisdom
One of our newest Christians, Bojkena Selmanaj, has a very dear friend who has become dear to the rest of us, as well. Denisa Pirra is a beautiful fifteen year-old young lady whose smile can melt the hardest heart. And when one comes to understand the circumstances of Denisa’s life, her smile becomes even more radiant.

The first time I met Denisa was when she joined us for an overnight trip to one of the cities in the south of Albania. It was obvious that she had some problems, as she walked with a decided limp. Only later did we learn that she has been diagnosed with cancer of the bone, and has had two surgeries on her left leg, plus radiation and chemotherapy. Her hair was missing when we first met, but has now grown back in. I became quite alarmed when I learned that recommended action now was amputation of the leg. This was, of course, quite disturbing to Denisa and her family. With the encouragement and approval of other members of the church I took Denisa, her father, and two of our members to Tirana to visit with her doctor. I asked the doctor if he would be willing to refer Denisa to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis, TN. He said he thought it would be a good thing, and promised me he would do so the next day (I had provided him with the required procedure). I have learned that no such referral was sent, and it causes me to be quite upset. We are seeking some alternative options for Denisa.

Medical practice in Albania is, for the most part, socialized. People are not supposed to have to pay, but the standard understanding and practice is that if you want the doctor’s full attention and best care you must give him money on a regular basis. Denisa’s situation is very serious! I ask that you pray for her, her family, all the medical personnel involved, and for me as I seek to be a resource to find adequate help. In addition, please pray that I will have wisdom to speak of Jesus in the right way to Denisa and her family, presenting Him as the answer to the problem with which we are all afflicted, sin.
 



The Pirra family

Denisa Pirra

A Step Forward
As is emphasized by so many who have been on the mission field, or who are the “experts” in that regard, one thing is particularly important for the sustained existence of the church after the departure of the missionary(s). That “thing” is people trained in the Bible and good leadership skills. To that end many have sought for many years to have a training school here in Albania to prepare people for kingdom work. Far too often, when people go away (particularly to America) for such training, they do not return to their homelands. Thus, particularly promising workers are lost to their native churches.

After much thought, prayer and hard work on the part of a lot of people, such a training school now exists here in Albania. This is a cooperative effort between Sunset International Bible Institute, based in Lubbock, Texas, and World English Institute, based in Gresham, Oregon. The school is located in the facilities of the church in Tirana, the capital city. Steve Stamatis, whose father was the director of such a school in Athens for a number of years, is serving as the dean of the school in Albania. The school is in its first month of operation, and many “bugs” are still being worked out, but we praise God for making this a possibility.

I am particularly pleased to tell you that one of our young men, Altin Koçi, is a student in that school. I have mentioned Altin in my reports in the past as one who has been particularly active in bringing others to visit with me, and in bringing people to worship. Altin’s father enrolled him in a training school in Tirana to learn the art of prosthodontics (artificial teeth). Altin is in his second year of that two year program, but he has also entered the International Bible Institute of Albania. He attends classes at the other school in the mornings, and at the Bible Institute in the afternoons. The school is providing housing and meals for the students who need it, which is a real blessing to Altin and his family. When he finishes the other program at the end of this school year, he will become a full-time student of the Bible Institute.

Ideally, we would like to encourage people to support themselves as they work in the Kingdom here. That is very difficult, since jobs (particularly in Lushnja) are hard to find. When Altin finishes both schools, if we could find start-up funds for him to open a prosthodontics clinic here, it would go a long way toward providing some added stability to the church. Think and pray about it, and if you can provide some help for that project, please let us know.

In addition to Altin, one of our other young men has been pursuing further Biblical training. Besmir Bërboti attended an evangelical seminary in Croatia for one year, and is now in America seeking to further his education. I cannot tell you at this time where he is, or what school he is attending, but I am thankful that he has a heart for God. I will share more with you as I know it.

Christian Camp
For several years Virgil and Jackie Jackson, missionaries in Vlorë, have taken on the great challenge of organizing a Christian camp for the youth of Albania. In fact, there have been some who have attended from Kosovo, as well. The camp has been conducted on rented property in southern Albania, at a spot called Llogora. It is a wonderful undertaking, and much of the work has fallen on the Jacksons. In recent months others have expressed interest in Christians from throughout Albania working more closely together to bring about this worthwhile event. Some brethren have even begun to dream about a time when we might have our own property and not have to deal with the great amount of politics involved in securing a rental contract, and the many hoops through which such an effort involves.

Representatives from the churches in Vlora, Elbasan, Kuçove, Poliçan, Durrës, Tirana and Lushnja met to discuss our intentions about the camp effort. Then a number went to look at a piece of property north of Durrës, on the Adriatic Sea. It is a bit frightening to think of spending $200,000+ for a 6,000 sq. meter piece of property, plus the cost of developing it. Whether it will be done or not depends first, of course, on God’s will. All who are involved are seeking to do the best for the cause of Christ in Albania. As humans we, of course, have differing opinions about various aspects of this project. Please pray for us that we may make decisions only after the will of God has been sought in prayer, and only in accordance with His guidance.


Unto the Lord be all the praise,

Tom
 

March 2006

Time’s Treasures and Tolls
I first came to reside in Albania something over three and one-half years ago. With the passing of that time I have been impressed anew with the fact that God is at work, and that he works in his time and in his ways.
 
Treasures abound for me in seeing how faithfully God works in the lives of those who will surrender themselves to him, and I rejoice to watch the growth in some of those who have become Christians in these past three and one-half years. I wish I could say that such growth is a part of every person who has said they would follow Jesus, but it is not the case. People here are just like the people in Jesus’ day (or in today’s America), whom He described in the parable about the different types of soil. (Mt. 13) With some, the word never takes hold at all because Satan takes it away prior to the coming of comprehension; with others, trouble and persecution cause an early departure from the way of the Lord; still others allow the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth to choke true life out of them; and, glory to God, some produce varying degrees of abundant spiritual crops. All kinds of soil have been encountered here, just as in America, but I focus on the abundant growth in the lives of some. I am so grateful that God placed me here to share the Word, and be able to watch as he gives the increase. There is cause for joy, and there is cause for concern, in the lives of the spiritual babies in the church here in Lushnja.

Time takes a toll, also. We all know that our lives will not physically last forever, and we who are Christians rejoice to think about the reward we will receive when we cross the river of death. However, when death lays its cold hand on someone we love, someone close to us, we want to fight against the inevitable. I have shared previously about Denisa Pirra, the beautiful fifteen-year-old girl who was diagnosed with cancer not quite one year-and-a-half ago. The cancer has spread so aggressively that the doctors now say that there is no more they can do for her. I have taken her several times back and forth to the doctors in Tirana, the capital city, and have felt the growing frustration with the inadequacy of human means. I have prayed diligently to God that, if it is his will, he remove all the cancer from Denisa. I know that such an action would certainly show his presence and his power, at least to some. I have been careful to pray within the will of God, as did our Lord Jesus regarding his crucifixion. Now I am trying to help the family maintain some semblance of order and hope in their lives, and am trying to share with Denisa about spiritual matters. We of the small church here have given several hundred dollars to the family to help with their needs, but more could be used. If you are able to help in any amount for their needs, please send what you can to:

Metro church of Christ
Denisa Pirra Fund
1525 NW Division
Gresham, OR 90303

Another toll of time, and human frailty, is the passing of my oldest sister, Bonnie Gourgon, from this life the last week in March. She was only sixty-eight, but had had health problems for a number of years. Many years ago she had suffered an aneurism, then was involved in an automobile accident, and was largely paralyzed on one side of her body. She had heart bypass surgery a few years ago, and recently went in for gall bladder surgery, which was to have been done by scope. The problem, however, was larger than anticipated and a major incision had to be made. As it turns out, her heart was just not strong enough to sustain her through the recovery process. Please pray for my family, and her family, over her loss to us.

Traveling Time
My last visit to the States was in October of 2004. I have a new granddaughter who just turned ten months old whom I have not yet seen, and a two-year-old grandson whom I have seen for less than ten hours in his life. I am planning a trip to the States for this month (14th) and my elders (Metro church of Christ, Gresham, OR) have expressed that they feel I should make this a three-month furlough. I will be returning to Albania, the Lord willing, on July 12. This amount of time will enable me to travel to each of my children’s homes, visit with my siblings (Bonnie was to have been the first in this regard), visit friends all across the U.S., visit financial supporters, and seek additional supporters for the ministry here. Part of my original personal support was committed on a five-year reducing scale, and we are nearing the beginning of the fifth year. Several original supporters have had to divert their funds elsewhere, and death has taken some of the supporters.

Therefore, I will be all over the U.S., and would welcome an opportunity to visit with any of you, if it is possible. If you, or someone you know, would be interested in hearing more about the work here, please let me know, and provide me with contact information. I will be in the Northwest for the first phase of this visit, with my son and his family, in Camas, WA (Trey & Jenn Bonner), and getting some needed dental work done. I plan to attend the Pepperdine Lectures the first week in May, and I will be staying with my daughter and her family (Jack & Tami Williamson) in Thousand Oaks. June 1 I will be attending the HS graduation of my oldest grandchild (Michael) and staying with his family (Troy & Candace Bonner) in Westminster, CO. My youngest son and his family (Todd & Julie Bonner) live in Martinez, GA, and I plan to visit there. I also plan to try to visit in the homes of all my siblings, who live in CA, ID, and GA. So, as I said, I will be all over. Please let me know if it is possible for us to connect when I am in your area, or give me an opportunity to come into your area.

Looking Ahead
I will be doing a lot of discussion with many different, and different kinds of, people while I am Stateside. I made an initial commitment of five years to the work here in Albania. When I return from the furlough approximately one year will remain on that initial commitment. Now I must begin to think, discuss, pray and plan for what God’s desire is for me beyond August 2007. Obviously, there are many competing things, or people, drawing me in one direction or the other. I certainly feel God has more work for me to do, since he has blessed me with good health and a reasonably sound mind. Certainly, part of me would like to be closer to my children and grandchildren; another part of me has difficulty envisioning leaving my “children” here. Perhaps there is even something else to which God would lead me. I just don’t know!! At this point in time, I am submitting everything in this regard to God, for him to be the one who in some way determines direction for me.

Above all, please pray for me that I will continually seek, and follow, God’s direction. I seek only to be used by him in the best way possible for the remainder of my years. I have voiced that desire often throughout my life, but never have I felt as open to his guidance in whatever direction he chooses. May the God who is the giver of all good gifts give us ability to allow ourselves to be used to the glory of the Holy One in ways that we cannot even imagine.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20, 21

Tom

April-May 2006

A Busy Time
Well, I have now been on U.S. soil (a lot of it) for a bit over 1½ months. I am currently on the last stop of connecting with all my children and grandchildren and will be returning to the Portland area within the next week or so. I have been able to reunite with many long-time friends and fellow Christians in many places. The last weekend in June I will be able to connect with additional relatives at a family reunion which will be held in the Northwest at Camp Yamhill. I have driven from Washington to southern California, across the southern part of the country all the way to the eastern border of Georgia, and am sitting in my son’s house in the Denver area as I write this. I have been blessed with good weather and relatively little difficulty of any kind. The greatest blessing, of course, has been in getting to renew my connection with loved ones, physical and spiritual family. I regret to report I have had no success in the fund-raising I have been attempting on the same journey, but some people have taken into consideration the work being done in Lushnja and Albania and are contemplating the possibility of helping financially.

Sad News
I have reported in this newsletter regarding Denisa Pirra, the fifteen year-old young lady who was battling bone cancer. Denisa’s condition continued to deteriorate, and she was pretty much confined to bed from the beginning of March. I visited with her the last four days I was in Lushnja before coming to the States. A couple days after my departure I got word that she had left this life the day after I left on my trip. I am saddened for a number of reasons. First, though I had secured permission to do so from her father, I never got to study the scriptures with her. Secondly, she and I had become quite close through the sharing in her needs and hurts, and I will miss her as a friend. Thirdly, her family (whom I have not seen or communicated with since her death) is surely suffering through her loss. I am at the same time overjoyed that the church in Lushnja, in my absence, was present to provide support in a number of different ways to the family. Please pray that on my return the doors will still be open for involvement with the family.

Great News
In my absence the preaching in Lushnja is being shared. The churches in Tirana and Durres are sending men to preach, and our own Altin Koçi has been participating in this as well. Altin continues to be involved in two schools – the Sunset International Bible Institute and a dental technician school. I am still attempting to find funding to help Altin set up his own dental lab in Lushnja when he completes the school, which would add a great deal of stability to the work of the Lord there. There is little work to be had in Lushnja, and having a member of the church who is a business owner in the community would be a true blessing, both from the status angle, as well as providing some financial stability for the on-going growth of the kingdom

Also, rejoice that there are other members of the church in Lushnja who, though young in the faith, have taken responsibility to keep things going with the church while I am away. I am so glad that God is faithfully maturing Christians as they cooperate with him, providing leadership for now and the future.

Can You Help, Please?
In almost all cases mission efforts depend on funding from outside the mission area. That has been true of the work in Lushnja since the beginning. God has been faithful to his promise, and has used many of you to effect that faithfulness. Neither I nor the ministry has ever had to do without anything that was needed for the ongoing of the work. My personal support initially came equally from the Metro church of Christ in Gresham, OR (my sponsoring congregation) and the Bell Trust Fund. The arrangement with Bell Trust is almost always on a reducing schedule, with the intention that the sponsoring congregation will take up the slack as Bell Trust reduces their involvement. Metro has not been able to follow this plan, though it has not created a big problem to this point. Crunch time is coming, however, and additional funding needs to be secured. I receive contributions from a number of you, with no specific designation as to how it is used, and I have allocated some of those monies to be used in the personal support area. But this leaves less funds available for the working fund, and as the work progresses in Lushnja, more funding will be required.

Additionally, there are two other projects for which funding is needed. I have mentioned above the efforts to raise funds to help Altin get established in business. In addition, many of the Albanian churches have discussed the need and desirability of purchasing property for the establishment of permanent facilities for a Christian camp. We do not have any specific plans set at this time, but have looked at some property, the cost of which would be around $240,000. Whether or not this is the most desirable property has not been determined, but it does give us some idea of what we need to expect. Then, of course, there is the matter of development and upkeep costs. A board consisting of members from the various congregations in Albania will be established to oversee the activities required to make this project come to fruition.

THE NEEDS

· 1.    Monthly contributions toward Tom Bonner’s personal support
· 2.    One-time or ongoing donations to help Altin Koçi establish a business
· 3.    Donations to help with the purchase of property for a Christian campground

 


Altin Koçi Preaching

 


Men viewing potential camp property


Albanian Christian teen camp


My dear brothers and sisters, you have been more than faithful in your support of this ministry through your financial and prayer offerings. May I ask you once again to consider the possibility of helping with the needs listed above? God is being glorified, and lives are being changed. I stand ready to provide any input you may desire to help you reach a decision in this regard. Any amount, toward any of the needs listed, will be greatly appreciated. Funds may be sent to the Metro church of Christ, my sponsoring congregation. Please indicate on the envelope and check for what purpose the funds are intended. The address is:

Metro church of Christ
Albanian Fund
1525 NW Division St.
Gresham, OR 97030

Lifting Jesus high in Albania,

Tom
 

 
June-August 2006


Turn Again Home
I returned to Albania on July 13, and made it back to Lushnja on the fourteenth. Immediately I began work on documents for the government, some having to do with the functioning of World English Institute in Lushnja, and some having to do with renewing my leje qëndrimi (permission to stay). It is true that bureaucracy exists everywhere in the world, but it is especially frustrating when one is struggling to understand the language and deal with the bureaucracy at the same time. I believe I have things in hand now, after receiving help from some wonderful friends.

The three months that I spent in the States were good for me, especially in that I got to see all my children and grandchildren, along with a host of wonderful friends. My oldest grandchild, Michael, graduated from high school on the same day that the youngest, Ava Faith, turned one year old, June 1. I was able to attend Michael’s graduation in Colorado, but didn’t make it to Washington to share in Ava’s birthday cake. Everyone seems to be doing well, and they all seemed to appreciate seeing me as much as I did them.

The bad thing about such a long stay is living out of a suitcase for that period of time. I spent the most time with Trey, Jenn and Ava in Camas, Washington. They are close to the Portland/Gresham area, and there were many connections for me to make in that vicinity. While with them, I was able to hang some clothes, which eased the “on-the-road” syndrome somewhat.

I drove my eleven-year old car about twelve thousand miles in my travels. It served me well and kept me cool. It is about the only material thing I still own of any value, and it is likely that Trey and Jenn will sell it now, since they have adequate transportation without it. To just let it sit until my next trip to the States doesn’t seem to make much sense, so they will decide what needs to be done with it. That impacts me nostalgically a little bit, but I will live through it.

One of the things I enjoy most about trips back to the States is getting to see the beauty of the Northwest, in particular. I know many of you see it often, but I am going to include here a picture of Mt. Hood, the beauty of which always strikes me when I see it. And just think!! What we know here does not begin to compare with what God has prepared for us In heaven.


To The Future And Beyond
Where do we go from here? When I came to Albania in August 2002 I made a flexible commitment to spend five years here. On August 7 I will have been here for four years. Analyzing the situation, and after much discussion with many people, I have come to the conclusion that it does not seem likely that it will be time for me to leave at the end of the next year of my stay here. The church in Lushnja is young in time of existence, and young in age chronologically. There are very encouraging signs of growing maturity among the members, but leadership continues to be an area of concern. Therefore I have verbally committed to another flexible five-year period, which can be altered if there are indications that such is not necessary, or would be detrimental to any facet of the work.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that the requests (sometimes pleas) of some family members, and others, for me to return sooner (read that now) will not be honored at this time. It means I will have to honor a commitment I made to the church here to work harder on learning the language.

It also means that I will have to honor a commitment I made to the church here. I told them before I went to the States that if it was decided that I was going to stay beyond the five-year original time commitment, I would make it a priority to work harder on the Albanian language. I really do covet your prayers in that regard. The language is difficult, and I am old!

I truly believe God put me here!! I truly believe God is at work here!! I truly believe there can be a vibrant and effective body of Christ in existence here when I am gone!! If you share in these beliefs with me, please join in praying that God would provide guidance, and wisdom to follow that guidance.

Answered Prayer
You will recall, if you have been reading the previous newsletters, that I told you of our interest in, and work with, Denisa Pirra. She is the young lady we had tried to help with securing better medical attention, either here or abroad, for the cancer she was battling. You will also recall that she passed from this life the morning after I left for my furlough in America.

When I returned from the furlough, I learned that Denisa’s younger sister, six-year old Sara, was in the hospital in Tirana, and had been for three weeks. I enlisted the help of a sister from the church in Tirana, who works at the hospital, and thus knows its workings. She met the mother and father of Sara there at the hospital, and together they spoke with the doctor and discussed the scan that had been done on Sara. The concern of the parents was, of course, that Sara had the same condition that had taken the life of her sister. Such is not the case, praise the Lord! Sara has no life-threatening condition.

Sara is home now, and being a six-year old girl. When I was visiting with her sister prior to going to the States, Sara and I had become good friends, and she would relate with me much better than with any of the others who went to visit from the church. However, when I called to make an appointment to go visit in the Pirra home, and take them some financial help, Sara kept asking her father, “Why is Tom coming? Why is Tom coming?” When I went to the home, she reluctantly gave me a hug, but then was quite withdrawn. In thinking about it later, I wondered if maybe she equated this visit with my visits in their home as a prelude to her sister’s death. And now that she had been ill as well, perhaps she was afraid that my coming would mean her demise, also. I don’t know if I will ever know the answer, but my heart certainly goes out to that little girl.

Christian Camp
Again this year some of our young people attended camp sessions in the mountains of Llogora. This is a beautiful setting, and much work goes into making the camp happen each year. Many Christians from around Albania are still interested in the possibility of securing land on which we can build a permanent facility, which can be used for many different activities throughout the year. This will be a very costly project, and the average Albanian income (as of 2003) is the equivalent of $1230. Please remember this possibility if you find you have more cash than you need.

Bible Bowl Competition
Each year since my arrival in Albania the church in Durrës has hosted a competition regarding knowledge of a particular section of the Bible. One time before we had competed, but had not “placed” among the top finishers. This year we fielded a team of four, ranging in age from twelve to twenty-one years, and ended up in second place. The young people were elated, as the picture attests.

Xhulia, Bojkena, Altin, Hoze

Growing Preachers
I have mentioned often in these pages Altin Koçi who is a student in the I.B.I.A. (International Bible Institute of Albania), associated with Sunset International. I have mentioned also Besmir Bërboti, who is currently in North America pursuing Biblical training, I am told.


Now I am glad to share with you that another of our young men, Hoze Davidhi has stepped into the same shoes. He is in his last year of high school this year, and has decided that he needs to take more responsibility in the church. Therefore, he volunteered to preach a few weeks ago, largely without any input from me. He still has some way to go, but the fact that he is willing thrills my heart, as I’m sure it does God’s. On August 20, Hoze spoke for us in Lushnja as we met to worship God. On the same day, we took a group to Fier to worship with the church there in the afternoon, and Altin spoke at that time. The church in Fier has some new American missionaries, Steve and Ruth Byrne. Our purpose in the visit was to encourage them, as well as the rest of the church in Fier.

Thanks Again!
God is faithful, and the added support that we were trying to raise has been secured! I am grateful for those who have been faithfully involved financially for a long time, as well as those who are more recently committed to helping us. Together may we bring glory to God through the efforts here in Lushnja.

Held in Jesus’ arms,

Tom

 

 
September 2006


What It’s All About
On August 1, 2005, Adriana (Ana) Murrizi became a student with World English Institute here in Lushnja. Her first teacher was Myrna Rockwell who had come from Portland, Oregon to work here in a campaign for about two weeks. Myrna and Ana developed a close bond, and enjoyed one another’s company.

When Myrna returned to the States, Tom Bonner took over as Ana’s teacher. One year and one month after beginning with Myrna, Ana was baptized into Christ. She had spoken often of her desire to become a Christian, which was realized in her new birth on September 3. The baptism took place in the Adriatic Sea. Ana’s mother and brother were able to be present to be part of this great event.
 

Adriana (Ana) Murrizi

Some might feel that a year is a long time to devote to any one student, but believe me, both Ana and the church (as well as heaven, I believe) are now rejoicing with her well-thought-out decision. This sixteen year-old young lady will be an important part of the Lord’s church here in Lushnja. She continues in her studies with WEI, and in the growth of her love for the Lord.

The Gift Of Encouragement
You have read in previous newsletters about Alma Kajdo, one of our sisters in the church. Alma has been a real encouragement to me as I have observed her love for the Lord and her desire to continue to learn and grow.

I am glad to share with you the news that Alma has agreed to work on a part-time basis with me. She will be teaching students in the afternoon five days a week, as well as helping me with legal processes that require a greater level of Albanian proficiency than what I possess. In addition, she is translating for me on Sundays. She had already been voluntarily teaching students whose English ability and my Albanian ability did not match up. Her aim is to bring them along to the point that I can work with them, and then have me work with them in the WEI materials. She has a beautiful spirit, and the students all seem to love her. She is a great addition to the work we are trying to do here.

Alma is a school teacher at the kindergarten level, professionally. This year she has fifty students in her care, though she would like to reduce the number. I can’t imagine trying to corral and hold the attention of fifty 5/6 year-olds unassisted. It should be good training for her working with me, don’t you think?

Intended Improvements
We have been in our present location for three years, and feel it is a good site. Therefore we have decided to make some improvements in the facility. We have not had hot water to this point in time, so we recently had a hot-water heater installed, as well as a larger sink. This will be an especially welcome addition in the colder winter months ahead.

In addition, we would like to add a baptistery and changing room. Often people have delayed being baptized for quite some time, due to the fact that we either had to go to the sea (not a good option for about ½ the year), or to the church in Tirana, about 1 ½ hours away. We want to do everything possible to assist people in their decision to put on Christ.

Resumption Of Singing Practice
For about a year in the past I had been traveling to Tirana once a week to work with the church on learning to sing in four-part harmony. This was, of course, quite a commitment of time. I informed the church in Tirana that I wouldn’t be coming for this purpose any more, feeling that perhaps the time could be better used in developing some programs here in Lushnja.

This decision was met with an appeal from the church in Tirana for me to reconsider, and at least commit to a lesser amount of time. Initially, I held my ground and adhered to my decision. Then, I committed to once a month, but now (with encouragement) I have decided to make the trip twice a month. There is much evidence to the fact that the results of this effort are indeed fruitful.

One thing I had thought to do with the time not used in this endeavor was to have a program of Bible study in the evening on Sundays here in Lushnja. This is very problematic, as most of our members are yet in school, and during the majority of the year do not venture out after dark, especially the young women.

Please pray that God will guide in making decisions about the use of time that are best for the church of our Lord, both here and throughout the country.

The Truth Goes On
At the present time I am studying with ten different people each week, both English and Bible. Alma has six students with whom she is working on English. I believe that even though she is not specifically dealing with Bible subjects, she is teaching about Christ.

Let me explain. One of my students is Alma’s twelve year-old daughter, Glenida. Glenida’s English and my Albanian do not always connect, and I shared with Alma that I wasn’t sure how much I would be able teach her regarding spiritual truths at this time. Alma’s response was, “That’s OK, but I want her to see Jesus in you.”

In the same way, I believe that the students with whom Alma is working are seeing Jesus in her, and that presence is growing continually. Please pray that all of us in the church here in Lushnja may allow Jesus to be seen in us as we go about our activities in the community.

Other members of the church are bringing their friends to worship with them. Some of our visitors are as, or more, regular in attendance than some members, and they are bringing friends with them. One young lady, from a Moslem family, knows the songs we sing better than I do. This week she and I visited and she shared that she really wants to be sure in her heart, and make a full commitment to Jesus before she is baptized. I praised her for that attitude, and encouraged her to keep seeking the Lord.

There will be more Christians here in the days and years ahead. May it be to the praise of his glorious name.

Looking Ahead
Over the coming months I have planned to make a couple of trips out of the country. In November I plan to attend the Euro/American Retreat in Berchtesgaden, Germany. This is intended more for relaxation and fellowship. Then in January it is my intention to attend, in Cologne, Germany, an advanced study seminar presented by the Ministry for Theological Education. Bill Wilson, the missionary in Cologne, is the host for this event.

Thank you for your interest and your help. God is being glorified. May your lives and your ministries provide as much fulfillment for you as you are enabling me to experience here in being able to serve the Lord here in Albania.

Tom
 

October/November 2006

Education Continues
My time in Albania is into the fifth year now, and I am daily continuing to learn about life here. Some of my more important education has gone wanting, since I have not worked very hard for some time now on the Albanian language. I could provide some reasons, but suffice it to say I am working on my attitude in this regard.

But other facets of my existence continue to provide opportunity for learning about the daily life in Albania. I have pondered often about the difficulties I encounter as a foreigner here. I have remarked to my Albanian friends that my life is more difficult here than in America, but still my life is not as difficult as that of most Albanians. Recently, I have acquired even greater appreciation for what goes on regularly for the citizens of Albania, as I have sought to work my way (with help) through some of the legal requirements for what we are doing here. It is an understatement to say that there is much confusion existing within the various government offices, and one can get four different answers to a question if one talks to four different people.

Alma Kajdo and I have spent quite a bit of time with the Policia Tatimore (tax police) in trying to get things ironed out about our obligations, due to the fact that we have secured business licenses for both the church and World English Institute. Since Alma is now considered an employee of World English Institute, we are obligated to pay into the social security system for her. But there has been an issue for some time in the country over whether foreign people working in the country, but paid from without, are subject to paying in to this fund as well. The education continues.

Progress
I have said from the beginning of my work here that God is in control, and that he will determine our direction and results. I am not a great organizer, and many people might have a difficult time working with me. But I am firmly convinced that sometimes we plan things so completely that we plan the Holy Spirit out of what we are doing. As we go about our activities from day to day God is bringing more people into our path, and some of them are seeking us out to come and worship with us. I won’t spend time here naming names, but I will ask you to keep the church here, the people being contacted, and me, personally, in your prayers. God is the God of the harvest in this and all endeavors.

Conference In Germany
In the last newsletter I mentioned that it was my intention to attend the EuroAmerican Family Retreat, which was to be held in Berchtesgaden, Germany. This did come about, and I traveled to and from Germany with Ellen Walker, a worker in Tirana for the better part of ten years, as well as with Steven and Ruth Byrne, who have recently moved to work with the church in Fier, from Anchor Point, Alaska.

Teo

Allison

Ralph

Mladen

The retreat was a great blessing, as several different speakers had been engaged to come and share with us: Adrian Teo, from Singapore; Steven Allison, from ACU; Ralph Gilmore, from Freed-Hardeman; and Mladen Jovanovich, from Zagreb, Croatia. Both European and American brethren were present, and the fellowship was very uplifting. I found myself with a cold, congestion and coughing, and had to spend a couple of days in bed. I was able to fulfill a long-time desire, though in a very limited way, of visiting Hallstatt, Austria. I have a picture of Hallstatt on my computer screen-saver and it has drawn me to visit. We didn’t arrive in Hallstatt until late in the afternoon, when the light was almost gone, but still I was pleased to have made the trip.

Now And The Future
In my absence Altin Koçi did the preaching here in Lushnja. His involvement with the IBIA, a satellite school of Sunset International Bible Institute, has borne wonderful fruit to this point. He has matured a great deal, and will be a great blessing to the church in years to come. I plan to try to arrange for others of the students from the school to come on a rotating basis to preach here. It will be a blessing for the church, and good experience for the young men.

I have been trying to get a man whom I met previously, a graduate of Sunset’s satellite school in Athens, to come and see about working with the church in Lushnja. I was very impressed with him, and felt that he would be a great asset for the work here. He is an Albanian, and his family lives in Tirana, so this would be a very good location for him. But my efforts in this regard have been totally unsuccessful, so I must forget about him and pray that God will provide as only he can.

It has been my stated, and heartfelt, purpose since first I came here, for this to be an Albanian church. I know that it is better for me to try to work myself out of a job, than to create a niche for myself here. I will gladly stay as long as God desires for me to, doing whatever I can to help in building up the church. I will also gladly go wherever God can use me best. I do not want to become so accustomed to being here that I am not observant of other things or places in which I could more effectively serve. Please pray for me in this regard.

God’s Gracious Provisions
When I first made the decision to come and work here my biggest concern was regarding fund-raising. God’s hand was present! I made the decision to come here in April 2002, and by August I had all my support in place. Not once in the intervening four-plus years have I personally, or the ministry, lacked what was needed. To the contrary, God has “opened the windows of heaven” to pour out his blessings. I have tried always to be a good steward of what God, through you, has provided, and we always have had a surplus. Contributors have gone, and come. I will be losing another $300 per month toward my personal support at the beginning of the year, but I have no doubt that God will fill the need.

Most all of you are aware, I am sure, that the dollar is taking a beating in devaluation relative to most other currencies in the world. The news recently reported “a new two-year low” in the euro/dollar relationship. The Albanian currency is in on that parade as well. When I first came here the exchange rate was 135.5 leke per dollar. The latest rating is 93 leke per dollar which is about a 31% decline, if my math isn’t failing me (which is a distinct possibility). At any rate, “less bang for the buck” is definitely an accurate statement. Please pray for continued wise stewardship on my part as I labor here in Albania.

Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus

Tom


December ’06 – February ‘07


New Beginnings
As with most people, this time of year is a time of reflection for me. Many questions come to my mind about my life and my activities. I know of many things that I want to change so that I will be a better person. Thinking of them, and putting them into effect, are two entirely different issues. I pray that God will give me the wisdom to continue to look at myself through eyes that are his, and seek the strength that is his by which the needed changes can be brought about.

As I think about God graciously granting me the privilege of being here in Lushnja, Albania I am challenged. I came with no missions experience, per se. I came with circumstances that most experts would have said were not the best: no existing body of the church, no co-workers, and no ability with the Albanian language. Yet, God has blessed the efforts, and a small but close family of people meet every week to praise God. As with any ministry with which I have been involved over the past forty-four years, there have been (and continue to be) disappointments. I guess the thing that says best what I am attempting to say are the words contained in a Christmas card given me by the church here, penned by Bojkena Salmanaj, a fifteen year-old young lady: “We are thankful to God who united us together in one body. Now we have to continue to grow in Christ, as God wants.” Now that’s what it is all about, isn’t it!?

New beginnings, but building on the same message: God loves you, as is seen in the atoning gift of his son, Jesus. May God give us strength and wisdom for the wonderful gift of ministry to which he has called us.

There are new beginnings in other ways, as well. I have mentioned before that Alma Kajdo is now working with me on a part-time basis. I am very thankful for her presence, as she has truly been a blessing. Another new beginning is that I have purchased a lap-top computer for Altin Koçi to use as he attends the Biblical Institute in Tirana, preparing himself to be a leader in the church. I am also providing some support for him as he attends the school. None of us knows what the future holds when he finishes the school, but he has put everything else on hold while he completes the schooling. You may recall that he was attending two different schools for a while, the IBIA and a dental lab school. It remains to be seen just how helpful the dental lab training will be for him in seeking to secure employment when he finishes IBIA. There have been many changes in Altin since he became a Christian about 3 years ago. Let’s pray for the Lord to use him in a powerful way here in Albania.

Conference In Cologne, Germany
I had the opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by the Institute of Advanced Theological Studies, in Cologne. I have attended this event before, and knew I would be challenged by it, which proved to be true. I am very far from being an academician, but do look for opportunities to grow in my thinking and understanding. One of the great blessings of such an activity is getting to see those whom you have known and worked with in years past. In this case, I was blessed to see Tom and Sandra Sibley, who served the church in Vancouver, WA at the same time I did through the 1970’s. They have now been living in Zagreb, Croatia for a number of years, where Tom is the director of a Biblical Studies Institute.

I made the decision to drive from Albania to Germany for this event, since I have seen little of Europe in the 4½ years that I have been here. On this trip I traveled through, and got to see some of the ancient buildings, in: Monte Negro, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Austria and, of course, Germany. This was a very expensive way to travel, since I was traveling alone, but hopefully I grew through the experience. I drove about 4600 kilometers (2800+ miles) with no negative incidents.

As an American who has seen very little of our own nation’s past through buildings, etc., it was fascinating to walk on stone streets where people walked more than two thousand years ago. Next year I hope to take with me some members from the church here, most of whom have never been out of Albania. I might be approaching you to help with the expenses of such for the members, but that will come later.

Planting, Watering, Harvesting
Opportunities continue to arise every week to present Christ, in various ways. I pray, and ask that you pray, that God will give the wisdom to respond in every situation in a way that best fits the circumstances, and will bring glory to his name.

How have we done over the past 4½ years in participating with God to build the church here? By my count, and by God’s grace, sixteen have been baptized. I regret to say that not all of them have been fruitful in their Christian lives, and some few have been seldom present with the others to worship and serve God. In addition, two have come from other fellowships which practice baptism by immersion for the forgiveness of sins, and they have become part of the church family. Of the total number, ten are not normally in Lushnja, but are either attending school in another city, or have moved out of the area. Two of those are in America and one is in Italy. In addition, one is only verbally a part of the church (voicing a desire to be a part, but never attending without some special effort being made to bring them to meet with us), while two have chosen not to be involved with us. One of the new converts is now attending the extension school of the Sunset International Bible Institute, while another is studying “theology” somewhere in the States, though he refuses to tell me where.

At the present time there are at least seven who have expressed interest in being baptized, but whose decision is being weighed carefully, or who need further teaching to understand the meaning of a total commitment of their lives to Jesus. Please pray, also, that God will work in these people’s lives to bring them into the kingdom. And we also have at least three who have begun attending with us, coming from some other church, with whom I have not yet had the opportunity to communicate about their Biblical understanding of salvation.

All in all, we could wish for better results, and will continue to attempt to find better ways of lifting up Jesus. At the same time, however, those who have understood their commitment and followed through on it, are telling others about the kingdom. The harvest will increase as more people involve themselves in sharing the message of salvation in their environments.

Recently, a mature husband and wife (Maks and Mira Balla) have begun to worship with us. He has served as a deacon in the church with which they were previously involved, and they both have expressed a great desire to be of assistance in the church here.

The last Sunday in February Steve and Ruth Byrne, missionaries in Fier, Albania, joined us to worship, along with 9 others from their area. Steve preached for us, and we enjoyed wonderful fellowship.

Changes, Positive And Challenging
Since I came to Albania 4½ years ago, many changes have taken place. I know that it is not nearly so stark a difference as seen by those who came into the country soon after the fall of communism, but different it is, nonetheless. There are many improvements in roads, buildings, etc. There are still many metaphorical miles to go before life here even begins to compare with the comfort enjoyed by most Americans, but the direction is forward.

Recently elections at the local levels were conducted throughout Albania. A side benefit of the election process here in Albania is that, whatever political party has national control at the time of elections, the power problems seem to magically disappear! A week or two prior to the elections, the pattern changed dramatically. We had been experiencing 5-8 hours per day without electricity, but the elections were held early in February and power supply has remained almost constant. If the pattern of past years holds true, we can expect a return to the old schedule any day now. It is good to not have to schedule showers, computer work, etc., around the availability of the electrical power!!

The difficulties with the local tax office continue. I have always striven to be in full compliance with the laws and requirements of living and doing work in Albania. For some time now I have been having a “go-around” with the local tax officials, and am told that, to everyone’s knowledge with whom I have spoken about the situation, only we are experiencing this difficulty. I do not know what the outcome will be or why this has come upon us only. But I do know that God is the God over all governments, and our direction is to be subject to them. Please pray that God will give me wisdom and patience. I must confess to have fallen prey to some depression over this situation, and I certainly know that does not glorify the Father, creator of all things.

Late Start
I have a standing joke with my family relative to getting birthday cards and gifts to them on time. It has gotten to the point that I now tell them that I am afraid to send things on time, lest they think that I am ill in doing so.

In the same vein, it is past time for getting things organized for a campaign here in Lushnja this summer. Several have already committed to being with us for this effort, July 16 – August 17. For some it will not be possible to stay the full time, but their presence will be appreciated for the time they are able to be here.

Housing will not be in a 5-star hotel, but likely in a private home. There might be some costs incurred relative to the housing and meals, but nothing exorbitant. You will find the Albanian people warm and friendly, for the most part, and very appreciative of what you are doing for them. The young people have a great deal of respect for their elders, and display it in many ways.

If you would like to come for all or part of the campaign time, please let me know. I promise that your work will be appreciated, both by the students you teach and by me. The nature of the campaign is that we help people improve their English, and at the same time teach them Bible, using the World English Institute materials. The biggest part of the job is just listening, while building a friendship with your students.

While Albania is not one of the world’s primary “vacation destinations”, there are some very interesting things to see here. For those who come we will attempt to arrange some excursions to see some of the ancient sites in the area, as well as visit the Adriatic Sea shoreline.

If you are interested, let me know as soon as possible, and I will provide you with more information.

Apology
Once again I must apologize for the length of time between reports. I always have every intention to be more punctual, but it doesn’t seem to happen as I plan it. Perhaps I am falling victim to the Albanian cultural environment, where it is very difficult to begin anything on time. But I fight against that mindset in myself, and will strive to do better in the future.

Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus

Tom


March- May 2007


Tragedy And Glory
I have been shocked in recent days by the terrible things that we humans can inflict on one another! You are all probably all too aware of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University on April 17, in which over thirty people lost their lives. Then on April 18 three Christian believers in Turkey were methodically mutilated, the last element being a near-decapitation of them all.

I live in a country that is said to be seventy-five percent Moslem, this figure being based primarily on the surnames that people have. While under the control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire many people “converted” to Islam in order to be able to pay less in taxes. It is my great joy to tell you that I have seen none of the kind of radicalism that has led to so many tragic deaths, even of our own loved ones, in Iraq; none of the hatred that motivated the young men in Turkey in their slaughter of innocent people. Thank God that the event at Virginia Tech University, while a tragedy, is not an approach that all disturbed people take.

The “glory” part of this picture is that everywhere in the world, in spite of danger and hardship that accompany their decisions, many people are choosing to follow Jesus. I am pleased to share with you that Oltion (Olti) Mezini, was baptized into Christ in the Adriatic Sea on March 18, one day before his eighteenth birthday. Recently Olti traveled with me as I went to Tirana to work with the church on their singing. On the way home he asked me to turn off the radio, then asked if we could sing some of the songs we sing in our worship services. Needless to say, my heart was thrilled. It was interesting to me that Olti knew the songs by heart better than I did, in spite of his short time in the faith.


Oltion Mezini's Baptism


The majority of our congregation has, to this point, been made up of teenagers. This is because the primary tool we are using in evangelism is geared to help people improve their English (the WEI materials) as well as learn the gospel message. Most of the more mature Albanians did not have the opportunity to study English under the communist system, thus they do not have skills in English on which to improve. But now a door has been opened for others to come into our fellowship. Three have asked to be identified with us, having come from another church in town. I have talked with them all at length, and am convinced that they were immersed for the remission of their sins. I find no basis, therefore, to exclude them from involvement with us. There are some differences of understanding on some points, but I share that condition with even some of you reading this newsletter.

The first to visit with us, then invite others, was Merjeme Çela. Merjeme is a widow, whose children are grown and out of Lushnja. Right now she is visiting for a month or so with her son in Italy. Merjeme definitely has a heart for God, and I pray that her spirit will continue to have a positive influence on us.


Merjeme Cela

One of the first people Merjeme invited to attend worship with her was Mira Balla. They had been members together in the previous congregation. Mira is desirous of organizing a time for the ladies to meet together to pray, and get to know one another better. The week after her first visit Mira brought with her husband, Maks Balla. Maks had been a deacon in the other church, and has a great spirit. Several to whom I have spoken in the community about Maks have praised him very highly as a good, solid, Christian man. God is building His family here!!


Mira & Maks Balla

I would ask you to pray for us in regard to these, and potentially others who will come because of them. I have had a visit from their “pastor” and he is not happy with their decisions to leave his church. I do not want to be a troublemaker, but I will not turn people away from the church if I believe they are my brothers and sisters. Ask God to grant me wisdom to know how to deal with this issue.

An Opportunity For Service
Recently the church was approached by the new director of the closest kindergarten about the prospect of us helping the school. In particular the needs were toys for the children, and closets/shelves for the storage of their coats and personal items. The cost per unit, and four were needed, was 25,000 lekë (something over $250) each. From the contribution of the church we were able to fund all four units. The director asked if we wanted to be on television, which I declined. I have seen some of the other churches in town clamoring for attention, and did not want to join in that parade. I asked that she inform the parents about who had made the shelves possible, in the name of Jesus.


Kindergarden's New Shelves

Fellowship
We have had several opportunities to be on outings together recently. On April 14, I took a van load of young people into Tirana where the church was hosting a national “youth day”, an annual event. Steve Byrne, the missionary in Fier, was the speaker and did a good job of challenging the young people. On April 28, I took a van load of ladies/girls to Elbasan for the same kind of event, but with a different target group. I will try to attach some photos from those events, as well.


Ladies' Day In Tirana

All in all, God is building a good basis for the church here. I sometimes have trouble in remembering that all things are “in his time”. I know full-well he desires that all would come to him. I also know that it is his desire, in fact a necessity, that we come to him with our head and our heart fully committed to being true disciples. There is far too much shallow religion in the world. It is our desire to work with God to build disciples who are sold-out and on fire. There are real roadblocks to accomplishing such here, much more so than in America. Please pray that whatever else may result from my time here, a body which understands the need for commitment will be in place when it is my time to leave, either for another place on earth, or for my home in heaven.

Summer Campaign
I have written previously of the intention to have some of you come and work here for a period of time during the summer. As of this writing, three have committed themselves for some or all of the time of the campaign. If you are interested in helping in this way, teaching English/Bible to those with basic English ability, please let me know. The dates of the campaign are set for July 16- August 17.

End Of Story, Maybe
It may be foolish of me to so state, but I believe that we have gotten past the difficulties with which we have been struggling with the tax police here. It is very hard to tell whether there have been real, or concocted, problems. The most recent encounter had the director of the local office apologizing to me for the actions of one of his employees. We will see if it is long-lasting.

Improved Electricity Situation
I have written in previous newsletters concerning the difficulties with the electricity situation here. Last time I mentioned that the election season had provided impetus for improved availability, but that I was not holding my breath regarding its continuing to be a constant presence. With trepidation (lest I change the situation) I write now that for four months we have been blessed with basically uninterrupted service. Please thank God on our behalf, and ask for continued service.

Looking Ahead
I continue to work toward making myself non-essential (my perspective, not God’s) in the Lord’s kingdom here. I do not know when that status will be reached, but I do not believe we are yet at that point. There are many positive signs for the future, but things move slowly.

Altin Koçi will, the Lord willing, be finishing his studies with the International Bible Institute of Albania (a satellite school of Sunset International Bible Institute), in December. The school has helped Altin mature and grow in the knowledge of the Word greatly. At this point in time it is not clear just what the future holds for Altin. He has, however, informed his parents that he doesn’t believe that he will work in the dental lab field in which he received training, as well. He has a great desire to see the kingdom spread.

I have frequently stated to the church here that when it is time for another worker to come in, it will not be my decision alone that determines who that person is. I believe that for a person to be effective in working with a church, the church must have trust and confidence in that person. Therefore, I ask that you please include this situation in your prayer requests, also.

Trip To The States
It is a bit premature, perhaps, but I wanted to let you know that I am planning a trip to the States for Christmas/New Year this year. In the five years I will have been in Albania at that time, I will have been to the States only once during the holiday season. I have communicated with my children, and we are planning a family gathering in the Denver area, where my oldest son and his family live. All have said they will plan to be there. It will be the first time in 21 years that we have all been together during the holiday season.

In planning for the trip, I want to plan enough time to get around to visit with all who would desire such a visit, especially churches and individuals who are helping support the work here. If you fall into that category, please let me know now so that I can plan accordingly. Last time I was in the the States I drove 12,000 miles, and still did not get to see everyone I would have liked to see. I won’t have to travel as far to see all my children, given the fact that we will be together for Christmas. But I do want to get around to see all who would like to have such a visit.

Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus

Tom

 
June-October 2007

Apologies, Again
I know, I know! I said I was going to do better about getting the newsletter out. I fully intended to, and still intend to do better. I will not try to offer explanations here, but there are reasons why things move slowly for some things, and at some times. I hope what you read in this newsletter will help you have a better understanding. I do covet your patience in the future, as there are some additional considerations that must be given to things that are before me.

Sowing The Seed
Three ladies from America came, at their own expense (and then some), and assisted by their home congregations, to share in the work here in Lushnja for a period of time. Returning for her second stay in Albania was Myrna Rockwell of the Eastside church of Christ, in Portland, OR. She was here for a period of six weeks. Coming from the Tyler Street church of Christ in Sacramento, CA were Gena Weeks and Danah Nelson. This was Gena’s first time out of the U.S. and her first time to participate in teaching with the WEI materials. She was able to be with us for only two weeks, but says that she would like to come again. For Danah, this was her seventh visit to Albania. During her previous visits she has worked in Orikum and Tirana. Her stay was five and one-half weeks in length.

There were no baptisms during the campaign, but much seed was sown. All of the ladies were greatly loved by those with whom they worked, and their departure was a matter of much sorrow for most of their students. Alma Kajdo and I will now be attempting to incorporate the students these ladies worked with into our schedules. Alma has gone back to work as a school teacher, and many of the students have likewise returned to school. My schedule is therefore light in the morning hours, but full in the afternoon and evening. The seed that was sown by the ladies, will not be to no purpose. If I understand correctly Isaiah 55:10, 11, we can rest assured that the word sown will bring forth fruit. Please pray for a harvest from the work these wonderful ladies did here in Lushnja.

Harvest Time
Beginning in June of 2003, and continuing through March of 2004, Sonila Rrapi was a student with us, using the WEI materials. She studied with three different teachers, ending with me. Always, she knew the answers to the questions, and expressed a strong faith in God. Her upbringing had been in the Orthodox church, and I could never get her to attend worship with us. When she finished the course material, we didn’t see much of her for a very long time.
 
Then, one of her friends and fellow-school teachers, Silvana Eksarko, was baptized. Sonila began attending worship with Silvana, and was here nearly every week. This past summer she expressed an interest in coming back and studying some more, so she became a student of Danah Nelson during our campaign this past summer. She began calling me “brother,” and I would gently remind her that she had not yet been born into the family.

That is no longer true, for she was added to the kingdom on September 16, as she was baptized for the forgiveness of her sins in the Adriatic Sea. The joy that she feels in her new relationship with God, and with the church, cannot be hidden. She exudes her feelings of happiness, and we delight in calling each other “brother” and “sister”.

On October 14, another new birth to our family occurred. Lidjona Çela has been studying with Alma, primarily only English, since November 29, 2005. Throughout this period of time she has been very faithful in her attendance at our worship and church activities. Lidjona is seventeen years old, the youngest of three daughters, and in high school. It is almost impossible for Lidjona not to smile, and when she does so she lights up the room.

During the summer campaign she was one of those students who had progressed well enough in her English to study with one of the Americans. She was assigned to Gena Weeks, who taught her using the WEI materials.

Praise God for these new sisters in Christ!

Return To The Status Quo
I should have know better than to even mention the improved situation regarding the availability of electricity in the last newsletter. We have now returned to the normal situation, i.e., regular outages for several hours per day. In fact, we are in what is being called an “energy crisis”. I am so thankful that, at the office at least, there is a generator. The temperatures during the stay of the ladies were quite high, reaching 42 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit). The infrastructure for adequate services of all kinds is greatly lacking here, and charges of corruption abound.

I remember a quote from Marshall Keeble in which he defined “staus quo” as “Latin for ‘the mess we are in.’” This definition seems very appropriate a lot of the time.

In Appreciation
I feel I must say something in the way of appreciation to my sponsoring church, Metro church of Christ in Gresham, OR, and its elders. This is my first venture as a foreign missionary, and I did not know what to expect in any way. I had read horror stories about missionaries who were virtually forgotten, or, conversely, were micro-managed by the sponsoring church. I feel truly blessed that God, in his wisdom, connected me with Metro. I receive support financially from the church, and from individual members. I receive encouragement from the elders regularly, and from time to time from members of the congregation.

In my attempts to secure support beyond what Metro can provide I have met with many different attitudes, and try to be understanding of them all. One of the most discouraging comments made to me while seeking additional support was “We are looking to get the most bang for our buck.” I understand that mindset from a business standpoint, but it doesn’t make much sense to me when we are contemplating the salvation of souls. Some cultures, and environments within each culture, are going to be less “bang-producing”. I guess Lushnja, Albania is one of those. But when I look in the faces of those who did not know Jesus and now do, or hear prayers being offered by young men who only relatively recently became Christians, I am thankful to God: thankful he put me here, and thankful that he gave me the Metro church with which to work.

I read something very recently that sums up what I am trying to say. “Let’s not count conversions, but conversations.” God is the one who brings the results, not us. If we will just be faithful in speaking Jesus in our lives, wherever we live, the results belong to God.

Thank you, Metro!!

Out And About
In July a group of us from here in Lushnja, were blessed to make a trip to Montenegro, the country just to the north of Albania, for five days. Several in the group had never been out of Albania, and this was an especially wonderful experience for them, as well as for the rest. This trip was made possible by a donation from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. This person grew up under Communism and recalled how often as a young person he had wanted to just be able to go somewhere out of his country, but had not been able to do so. He wanted to make it possible for the young people of the church to have such an opportunity, and all who participated are very grateful.

I am attempting to facilitate connections for fellowship within the body of Christ with other congregations. There are once-a-year meetings here in Albania, on a national basis, for the men, the women, and the teens. We always have good participation for such events. In addition to the events within the country, I am trying to make it possible for members to interact with churches in surrounding countries. To that end there are a couple of situations on which I have been working.

The Omonia congregation in Athens, Greece hosts a ladies day each year that is attended by ladies from a number of European countries. I have been trying to secure the necessary documents to be able to take a group of ladies for this event, but made the decision recently that we must wait for another year before participation in Greece. Documentation for Albanians to enter Greece is, at most times, very difficult to secure. Another reason for the decision not to attend the event in Athens has to do with a new law in Greece requiring both a valid country-of-citizenship drivers license, plus an international driving permit. I can only secure this through the mail to America, which is very slow, and there are only two weeks before the event.

Secondly, there is every year, somewhere in Germany, a Euro-American Family Retreat. This year it will once again be held in Rothenburg. I plan to attend this event, and want to take with me the lady who works with me, Alma Kajdo. Obviously, that is not such a good idea if we travel alone. Two other ladies from Lushnja have expressed an interest in going, as well. The plan is to drive up using our van, with Steve and Ruth Byrne (missionaries in Fier) and Ellen Walker, (longtime missionary in Tirana). Again, the big problem is visas for the Albanians. Ask God to bring about the possibility for this trip to be a reality, and to ultimately glorify him.

Five Years And…
Lushnja, Albania has been my home now for just over five years. I do not know what the Lord’s plans are for me in the future, but it is my desire to continue working in the kingdom for as long as I am able, wherever and in whatever capacity that may be. I just passed the sixty-five year mark of life, and my body and my mind (at least in my opinion) both seem to be in reasonably good condition. I have some of the normal aches and pains that accompany the aging process for most people, but by and large I am in pretty good shape. I do admit to having some bulges here and there that shouldn’t be. Maybe I will find the determination to “pare down”, for health’s sake, if not esthetics.

I am asked often how long I plan to stay here in Lushnja, or in Albania, for which I do not have an answer. There is certainly a great deal of need in the churches here, and if I can help fill some of that need, I am willing to do so. I really do not believe that now is not the time for me to leave, as there is still a great lack of converted, dedicated, mature leadership from among the Albanians. Sometimes I forget that it is God who is in control, and I try to plan every little detail. At other times, my perspective is that far too often we try to do all the planning, and don’t leave much room for God to work his will. For my own peace of mind, I am looking for the middle ground in this mental debate. It is my conviction that God put me here, and he will let me know when it is time for me to leave.

My being in Albania does have some ac-companying sacrifices, none of which are significant in comparison to the sacrifices of others, especially the sacrifices made by our Lord, who left the glories of heaven to come to earth on our behalf. The thing that most people refer to regarding sacrifice, if they approach the subject with me, is that I am missing the blessings of my children and grandchildren. This is not insignificant to me. Especially at this point in time is it telling on me, as both a son (Trey, 34) and a grandson (Brendin Williamson, 16) are experiencing troubling health issues. As of this writing we are waiting for a test and its results to determine if my son has cancer, and my grandson has a condition that may be related to his heart.

I would not be able to participate on a much greater level with my family if I were in the States, as the family is scattered all across the U.S. My oldest son and his wife (Troy and Candace) live in the Denver, Colorado area. Two of their four children are now in college. (I know it seems impossible that as young as I am I have two grandchildren in college.) My daughter and her husband (Jack and Tami Williamson) live in Thousand Oaks, CA with their three children. My third child and his wife (Trey and Jennifer) live in Camas, WA. Two daughters make up the rest of their family. The youngest and his wife (Todd and Julie) live in Martinez, GA with their three children. So, as you can imagine, even if I were living in the States, my personal connection with all of these wonderful blessings to my life would be limited, at best.

As always, please just pray that I may listen to the voice of God. There have been far too many times in my life when I did not do so, and for which I am regretful and repentant. In the years I have left, however many that may be, I desire to be truly faithful in following God’s direction.

In the grasp of his love,
Tom
 

March 2008


The Way It Works
Once again, still, we see the hand of God in the work here in Lushnja. Last report we shared with you regarding the baptism of Sonila Rrapi and Lidjona Çela. Sonila, you may recall, was encouraged by her friend Silvana Eksarko to begin attending worship with the church. Sonila had studied with us, but didn’t participate with us in worship. But now she is our sister. Lidjona has been one of our English-language students. If all Christians would talk with their friends about Jesus, and show Jesus in their actions, who knows what might happen?

A Grand Time
From time to time I find it beneficial to get with other Christians in a setting removed from the normal environment. Often such opportunities are presented in other places in Europe, and people come from all over to participate. In November it was a great privilege to attend the 44th Annual Churches of Christ Retreat, held in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany.
Other Americans working in Albania were able to attend, also. It was great to get to be involved with Ellen Walker, who works in Tirana; Steve and Ruth Byrne, who work in Fier; and Kevin and Allison Morill, who work in Korcë., in this time of renewal.


Lushnja ladies, Ruth Byrne (from Fier) in Germany

Three members of the church in Lusnhja were able to attend, also. Alma Kajdo, Silvana Eksarko and Sonila Rrapi had a wonderful time. It was the first time that any of them had flown, and they were pleased with that part of the experience. They also enjoyed very much getting to shop (what else?) outside of Albania, where the selection, and often the prices, are much better.

Twelve nations were represented at the retreat and it was a great privilege for us to sing together, pray together, and have fellowship in the Lord. The Albanian ladies were thrilled to get to meet Christians from so many places.

Normal Abnormalism
Albania continues to strive to move forward in many ways, often without success. It is a great desire of the country to gain admittance to the European Union, but it likely will not happen as soon as most wish that it could.

Sadly, Albania was recently identified as the 3rd leading government in the area of corruption, in all service sectors, in the world. The health system, justice system, police, utility services, etc., all are infected by this insidious problem. It is a great challenge to try to help people understand that participating in the corruption process, even at a minimal level, puts them in the same category as those in government who take bribes. All are responsible for the continuing presence of the problem.

One of the most troublesome things for the entire populace is the power situation. Until the middle of December the power in Lushnja had normally been off, in most places, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. I left Albania to travel to the U.S. on December 18, and the power supply has been almost, if not, continuous since then. I will not allow that to cause me to conclude that I should stay out of Albania, for I know that it is likely that “this, too, shall pass”.

At the office/church meeting place, we have had a generator, for which we have been very thankful. However, the last week before leaving on furlough I had a repair specialist (who does not sell generators) look at ours because we had been having problems with it. His diagnosis is that the generator is on its last legs, and that we need to purchase a heavier duty unit. He recommends an 8–8.5 KW unit, and guess-timates the cost will be around 4,000 Euros. That translates into almost $6,000. Through the generosity of brothers and sisters, and the good graces of World English Institute, we do have a contingency fund which will make it possible for us to purchase a new generator, if necessary.

The power company has petitioned to be able to increase the rates, since they are providing it 24/7 now. That request has been turned down, so now they are saying that they will perhaps return to the non-continuous provision status that existed before. Likely the power situation will be much the same as before, and the people will have to endure the negative consequences.

On The Go
I have now returned to Albania, after a 2 ½ month absence. My time in the U.S. was truly a “moving experience”. I landed in Portland, OR on December 19. On December 21 I got in my thirteen- year-old car and began traversing the U.S. I drove a bit over 11,000 miles, going as far as North and South Carolina. My “home” in the Dallas, TX area was in the home of my dear friends in Garland, TX, David and Martha Davy. They are members of the Saturn Road church which David served as a deacon when the church supported me to attend the Preston Road School of Preaching in the mid-1960’s. Now David is an elder at this 2,300 member congregation, and the church is continuing to reach out to the community, having baptized 199 persons locally last year.

I did get to visit with my brother and his wife, Terry and Kay, in Midvale, ID, spend five days in the Denver area with my children and grandchildren around Christmastime, and visit with my sister and her husband, Dale and Alta Friedman, in the Stockton, CA area. In addition, I was blessed to be hosted in the homes of numerous brothers and sisters across the U.S.

The primary purpose of my visit to the States at this time was to report to supporters and friends of the ministry, and to seek additional support. I have received commitments for the year 2008 which will make it possible for us to continue to reach out the lost here in Albania

Tragedy has struck the small country of Albania twice since my return. At a recreation area in the capital city of Tirana sixteen people were drowned when an overloaded boat capsized, many of them being children. The outing was a birthday party, and it turned tragic. Then this past Saturday there was an explosion at a munitions depot, which contained about 100 tons of armaments from the Communist era, manufactured in Russia and China. As of this writing, 9 are known dead and over 300 were injured. The depot is near some villages, and the homes of many people were destroyed, in addition. Albania is a country one-third the size of Oregon, with a comparable population (3.5 million). A heavy emotional burden for a small, very poor, country.

Mixed Blessings
My primary tool for evangelism has been teaching English and Bible together. Most of the students have been young people, the majority in their teens. Many have asked me to help them go to the U.S., which I have explained is not my purpose, and I do not know how to make it happen.

I am finding out, however, that I am helping them make that transition simply by teaching them English. Many students with whom we have studied, as well as many acquaintances from the city, have left for the U.S., some with student visas, some having “won” the U.S.-sponsored “green card lottery.” It is puzzling to so many why I am staying here, when they are wanting to leave and go to the U.S. The lifestyle differences certainly make that a pertinent question.

However, it is a blessing for me to work in a place where the gospel is relatively unknown, and to see the transformation that takes place in people’s lives when they truly understand the freedom that is theirs in Christ Jesus. The work in Lushnja will likely never produce hundreds of conversions in a year’s time. And that is not even my intention, necessarily. I want to leave a church, when God decides my time here is finished, which is founded and grounded in Jesus. I would love for there to be hundreds of members of the Lord’s body in Lushnja. My work, however, is to plant and water the seed, and leave the harvest to God. I never cease to thank God for whatever the number that gather to worship, as I see his mighty hand in their lives, as they love and interact with each other, and bring friends and family to worship with us.

So, I am helping prepare people for greater blessings in eternity, and in this life. I don’t want them to leave Albania, but I certainly understand that they have a desire to do so. Many who do go to the U.S. do not come back, but people from Albania go many different places, looking for some improvement in their lives. Twenty-five per cent of the Albanian population lives outside the country, and send money back to family members who remain in the country. Without this money, 42% of those who receive it would be living below the poverty level. Life is very hard for most people in Albania. My goal is to help prepare them for the truly better place, heaven.

A Tough First Week Back
I landed in Tirana, the capital city, around midnight on the 4th of March, where I was met by Steve and Deborah Stamatis and Altin Koçi. I had left our van with Steve, to be used in moving the I.B.I.A from Tirana to Durrës. I.B.I.A. is a satellite school of the organization that used to be known as Sunset International, and Steve is its director here in Albania. Altin is the young man converted to Christ here in Lushnja, who graduated from I.B.I.A. in December. Now he is working for the school as a translator/recruiter.

I opted to drive on to Lushnja, rather than spending the night in Durrës, and arrived home about 2 a.m. on the 5th. On the second day back, I had an older man on a bicycle pull directly into my path from behind a stopped car, and I hit him with the van. Thankfully, he was not seriously injured. I was found faultless in that situation, but had left my driver’s license at home, so the van was impounded until I appeared before a “hearing commission” later that afternoon. In the course of that activity the documents for the van and the insurance came under question (both of which had been renewed since my return), and I had to make several trips back and forth to get it all cleared up. In the end, I paid a fine of about $16 for not having my license with me.

Then, on Sunday night, someone broke a window in the van in order to steal the CD/radio. Evidently it was difficult to extract from the dashboard, and they ended up taking a good portion of the dashboard. Then I discovered that the approximate $665 I had paid for insurance does not cover theft. As the saying goes, “Live and learn”.

Looking Ahead
What does the future hold? As human beings, we certainly cannot know for certain any details in this regard. We can commit to remaining within the will of God, by doing what we know he desires, and learning more about him as we walk with him.

From my perspective, the 5 ½ years I have invested here have been a great blessing to my life, and an opportunity for others to come to know Jesus, or know him in a deeper way. How long will I stay? I cannot answer that question, though it is often asked. I can say that it is my desire not to leave until there is mature leadership in place within the body here. That does not now exist. Please pray that God will help us to develop such for the church here, so that it can be a group that is able to stand on its own, rooted in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.


Tom Bonner – for “newcomers”

I have reached the 65 year mark in my life, and we humans certainly begin to feel our mortality at this age. I am still told by the Albanians that I do not look like a 65 year- old, but I know what my birth certificate says and how my body feels. I am thankful I have been blessed in all the ways I have by the hand of God. Please pray that all my days will be used to glorify and praise our Father and our Savior.

Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus
Tom

 

 May  2008


MOVING FORWARD?
Did you hear that scream? It was me being pulled into the present, as I attempt create a blog and post my newsletters thereon. It has been suggested as the way to go to make it easier for people to read and to share with others. I did all of this setup once, and posted the newsletter, only to find that the format I had set up was not retained, and everything came out a complete jumble. So, with input from some great brothers and sisters, I am trying again on a different blog page.


SADNESS FOR ME
When I was working as a singles minister with churches in the Portland, OR area, Clinton Witter was one of the most consistent participants in things we were doing, though he was over eighty years old. When I made the decision to come to Albania, Clinton committed to helping financially, and has been doing so ever since. But last month, Clinton went home to be with the Lord. He had not long ago moved to Las Vegas, NV where he could be closer to his son and his family. Clinton had been a decorated soldier in WW II, his eyesight being greatly diminished as a result of his activities, and he was legally blind as a result. Though he always downplayed the heroics part, he is remembered fondly in his hometown of Gresham, OR. Clinton lived to the age of 89, and was studying spiritual subjects up until the hour of his passing. I will miss Clinton!!

NATIONAL YOUTH DAY
On April 26 the church in Tirana hosted the annual youth day for churches of Christ in Albania. We were able to take an almost-full van for that activity. The brothers and sisters in Tirana did a wonderful job of planning and carrying out the activities of the day. The three young men who graduated from the Bible training school in December were asked to do the speaking, and did a great job of it. Screen-printed T-shirts were given to all in attendance with the message "O sa mir' ne qën' Kristian" ("Oh how great it is to be a Christian"), and the church was given a banner with the same message on it. In excess of 130 people were in attendance. On the way home I challenged our youth to wear their shirts to school the next week. They were a little uneasy about committing to do so, but on Sunday some said that they would. Now I must educate myself on how to insert pictures of the group and event into the text. (Loooong pause)



Tom's photos are on his blog at
http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/

The group, the shirts, the banner



Part of the group present for the youth day


Whew, made it through that. Now we'll have to see it it comes out right!

CHURCH LEADERS MEETING
On April 19 the church in Elbasan hosted a meeting of leaders and workers of the churches from throughout Albania. Twenty-two were present, and good fellowship was enjoyed by all. The ladies of the church provided a full Albanian meal for all present, and it was wonderful. Please pray that there can continue to be meetings of this sort, and that peace and harmony will prevail in the young church in Albania.
 


http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/


Church leaders and workers meeting in Elbasan



TIME TO REJOICE
Though it is an May event, I want to include here the wonderful news about the birth into the kingdom of God of Inva Begolli. She has been studying English/Bible with me for some time now, and accepted the Lord's gift of forgiveness as she was baptized in the Adriatic Sea on May3. Inva is a truly wonderful young lady, with a sensitive and teachable heart. We have talked often over the past months about this decision, and those discussions and her decision now bring joy to her heart, my heart, and the heart of God.

Inva, sadly, plans to leave in August to participate in a student exchange program in the U.S., if she secures her visa at the interview next week. She is assigned a host home in Woodland, WA. I have been in touch with the church in that area, and we hope to get her firmly and quickly connected. Currently, one of our other members, Bojkena Selmanaj, is finishing her last year of high school as she resides in Edmonds, WA. As a matter of fact, four young people who have been students with us are attempting to get visas to go to the U.S. at this time. That produces mixed feelings in me. I truly want to help the Albanian people improve their lot in life, and a chance at schooling in the U.S. seems to be a positive way to do so. Too often, however, the strangeness of their new situations makes it uncomfortable or difficult for them to search out involvement with a church in their area. Please pray that I will be given wisdom as I interact with my students of the future.

http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/


Preparing for the new birth





Covered in waves of love




Enjoyable Outing

Also during the month of April I was able to serve, and be blessed in doing so. Ellen Walker, who has been working with the church in Tirana for about ten years, called and asked if it would be possible for me to do a favor for her. An American couple, who have been here to work with the church at least two times, were again in Tirana for a few weeks, and Ellen wanted to make it possible for them to see some of the ancient ruins in the south of Albania. Her request was that I take our van and accompany them on this outing. So Ellen, Mike and Diana Folertz (from Michigan) and I made a trip to the Saranda area, spent two nights, and were able to see some of the historical buildings in that area. At Butrint (Buthrotum is the more ancient name) we were able to spend several hours looking at the remains of buildings, some of which date back to the 4th century BC. We all enjoyed ourselves, in spite of the not-so-good road conditions as we returned up the coast route. I have to admit that it is awe-inspiring for me to stand in buildings that pre-date the formation of America by four millenia. Sacrifice has its blessings, and I am privileged that I was able to experience this.


http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/



5th Century AD baptistery


Ellen and Diana walking Ancient path

The Ongoing Saga Of The Sag
For those of you who have been readers of this newsletter for a period of time, you know that I have had occasion to write about the declining value of the dollar, particularly in relation to the Albanian lek. Having just spent a couple of months in the U.S. I am aware that things are tightening up there, also, especially in regard to gas prices, from my experience. The van that we have for use with the church here has a diesel engine, and diesel fuel here is less expensive than gasoline. I did not know what to expect on my return to Albania, either in regards to the value of the dollar or the cost of fuel. As of today the dollar commands only 77 leke on the dollar. Five and a half years ago it was 135 leke to the dollar. I did some mathematical calculation (not an easy undertaking for me) and have arrived at the conclusion that diesel fuel here is now costing $7.66 per gallon. OUCH!! Thanks to all of you who are helping support the work here, but you may hear more OUCHING from me in the future. God is in control, however, and will provide for the things he feels are necessary. Thank you for your willingness to be used by our Lord in this ministry.

Where Do We Go From Here?
A real problem in planting a self-sustaining ongoing church in Albania, at least in Lushnja, is the lack of good jobs that pay a living wage. I spoke this week with a lady) not yet a member of the church) whose husband has worked on the same job for twelve years. He is actually doing three different jobs on his one job, and his pay is about the equivalent of $200 per month. He works seven days per week, ten-plus hours per day. One of our men in the church has been without work for some time, and cannot find any. The question arises "How then can people give of themselves or their finances to the church?" If they have work, it keeps them from involvement with the body. If they have no work, they have no means with which to support the work of the church.

What is the solution? I do not know, and I am open to suggestion. If we do not want to provide American dollars for support for men to work with the church, then it seems that we must figure out some way to provide them with marketable job skills. With the job market so weak, it is likely that they will need to have some help in getting a business of some sort started with whatever skills they obtain. It is a dilemma, and one to which we need to give some serious thought.

Once again, I thank you for your support in all the ways you give it, the most important of which is your prayers. May God be glorified as we partner together to bring the gospel back to this land through which the apostle Paul is said to have traveled.

Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus

Tom

June 2008

Family and friends -

Below you will find the link to the latest newsletter.  It is such a privilege to be able to serve God, period.  But to be enabled by him and his people to serve here in Albania has been an even greater blessing.  Thank you for your help, and your interest, in what is being done here.

In his arms,

Tom


                                                        
http://lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/
 

July 2008

Check Tom's Blog for the text below with photos.

http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/

Blessings Galore
The month of July saw us blessed with visitors from two of the congregations that are providing support for the work here in Lushnja, as well as a brother and sister from here in Albania. On July 10 we were blessed to have in worship with us Woody & Gwen Byars and Charles Dial from the Farragut church of Christ in Knoxville, TN. Woody is an elder in this congregation, and has been to Albania several times, working in summer teaching campaigns. This was the first trip for both Gwen and Charles. After our worship together, and a meal, it was my privilege to take them back to Tirana, where they were engaged in the teaching campaign, and get to worship with the church in Tirana on Sunday evening. I regret that I did not get a picture of them to share with you.

On July 22 a group came from Fier, the city to the south of us, where Steve & Ruth Byrne labor in the kingdom. Steve and Ruth are sponsored by the Slicer Street church in Kennett, MO, and we in Lushnja are receiving support this year, also, through this mission-minded church. In the group that came from Fier, in addition to Steve and Ruth, were the following: Tim Byrne, son of Steve and Ruth, who lives in the Denver area; Kurtis Shaner, a friend of Tim’s, whose father I have known for many years in the Northwest U.S.; Elton Tanasi, a young member of the Fier congregation, who is a medical student in Tirana; Shawn Sando, deacon of missions with the Slicer Street church, whom I had met in Little Rock, AR on my latest trip to the States; Spencer Furby, preacher for Slicer Street; and Britt & Beverly Burcham. Britt is serving as an elder with Slicer Street. Several of our members (Alma Kajdo, Maks Balla, Olti Mezini) came to the office and were able to meet this group of Christians from the States, as well as renew their acquaintance with Steve and Ruth.

Photo on Blog


Front row, l to r: Britt, Tim, Spencer, Olti, Elton
Back row, l to r: Steve, Kurtis, Shawn, Maks, Alma, Beverly, Tom

On July 25 we were blessed with a visit from Danah Nelson. If you have been reading this newsletter for very long, you have seen mention of Danah before. Danah is from Sacramento, CA and has been to Albania many times working in summer teaching campaigns in Tirana, Orikum, Lushnja and, this year, in Korça. Danah is one who has a great heart for God and for the lost. While here in Albania this summer she put a short visit to Lushnja in her schedule, which was a blessing to us. We informed members of the church, as well as those who knew her only through the WEI course, and had a short open house in her honor. You can see from the picture below that she is well-loved, evident through the number that turned out to visit with her. Danah is the lady reaching across the front row to take the arm of Mikael, Alma Kajdo's son.

What an encouraging blessing to have such fellowship, and to be able to introduce first-generation Christians here in Albania to brothers and sisters who have made, and are making, sacrifices so people here can come to know Jesus. I’m so glad I’m part of the family of God!

Seeing Visions And Dreaming Dreams
Please forgive me for borrowing these words out of context from the writings of Joel and Luke. When the Holy Spirit was manifested in miraculous ways on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter connected what was happening with Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2; “…your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” All of this was happening to turn the hearts of the people to God, and Peter used the occasion to preach Jesus, after which 3,000 were baptized.

There are “young men” in the church of Albania who are seeing visions as to how we can more effectively reach people here with the gospel. Though a relative newcomer, as one of the “old men”, I am dreaming dreams of what might be done to better glorify our Lord. Albania has been passed by and walked over in so many ways in the past. Tradition says that the apostle Paul passed through this area as he traveled proclaiming Jesus. In Romans 15:19 Paul states, “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” Illyria is the ancient name of Albania, so it is likely that Christianity was present very early here. However, it was pretty much snuffed out by five hundred-plus years of servitude to the Islamic Ottoman Turkish Empire, followed by oppression from many other power-and-land-hungry nations, and most recently, the fifty-year reign of the most oppressive of the communist regimes.

In the May edition of this newsletter I talked about this idea of Christian camping. I mentioned the powerful influence of Christian camp programs, with which I was privileged to work for many years in the Northwest U.S., on the lives of young people. I have seen the same dynamic at work in camps that have been conducted here. The visions and dreams of many Christians here in Albania are to see an ongoing program that can provide an avenue of interest and hope for the inhabitants of this land. Recently I went to try to find a young lady who was baptized here, and served as my translator for some time, but whom we haven’t seen but a couple of times in the church over the past couple of years. She has been away at university, but not attending the church where she is going to school. When I asked her parents about her I was informed that she was at a Christian camp near the Adriatic Sea, operated by some other religious group. It would be much more desirable, in my opinion, if we could be providing this kind of opportunity for the people, young and old, of Albania.

I know this is a large undertaking, one which cannot be fulfilled with the resources available among Christians here in Albania, and one which comes at a time when economies all over the world are hurting. It also is an undertaking that will continue to need influx of finances from outside Albania for operating expenses. If you have an interest in, or share in, this dream, please let me know. I take this step and make this suggestion with great trepidation, since I know the great effort needed to sustain such an effort. Together, let’s petition the Father that he give clear guidance as to his will. In May I asked for feedback on this matter and received none, except an encouraging heads-up about a camp being run in Lithuania, where young people of all ages feel blessed to be able to participate in such a program. In a report I read about that camp one young boy was quoted as saying that he would now go the rest of the year without any connection with God. That may have been an uneducated statement, but it certainly reflects that boy’s perception of the role of God in his normal daily life.

Our Graduates
This year we have two graduates from university, and two who have finished their high school careers. Julinada Meço graduated with a diploma in English studies, focused on translation and interpretation, from the university in Tirana. She is currently seeking employment.

Juli (pronounced Yuli), whose picture appears to the left, wrote the following: “I graduated this year with the help of the Almighty. If somebody would ask me ‘When is the most peaceful moment in your life?’ I would say ‘ After a long talk (prayer) with my Father God.’ If somebody would ask me ‘Who loves you more,? I would answer ‘My Father God’. I’m not good at words but all I know in this life is that I’d be lost without my Father. Make him part of your life and be sure you all will be happy and safer. Love you so much.”

Erges Toshkëzi, pictured below, also attended university in Tirana, focused on mechanical engineering. He, too, is seeking employment in his field. Good jobs, even when one is in possession of a university education, are very hard to come by here.

Graduating from high school (called gjimnaz [jeemnahz] here) are Adriana Murrizi and Oltion Mezini (below, below right). Both Ana and Olti hope to attend university, but that remains to be seen. Both openings in the system and financial resources are limited, so not all get into the higher education process. We will let you know more later about their situations.

At any rate, congratulations are extended to all four of these young people.

Off To The U.S.A.
As most of you know, a good part of my work is helping people learn the Bible through helping them improve their English. The upside of that situation is that often hearts are opened to the love of God. The downside is that some of those who become Christians leave us and go away to study, particularly to the U.S. Last year two of our students, one of whom was a Christian, went to the U.S. on a student exchange program. That Christian young lady was Bojkena Selmanaj. I told Bojkena before she went that she had to find someone to replace her bubbly spirit and love for God in the church here.

Our latest convert here is Inva Begolli (below) who fills the bill for my instructions to Bojkena. However, this year Inva is also going to be an exchange student for her senior year of high school, along with three others who have studied with us here. They will be in four different locations across the U.S. As I said, this is the downside of our efforts, as a part of our hearts go with those who have become part of God’s family. I have been successful in arranging Christian contacts for Inva, and she is already in communication with them. Please pray for her in this new, and somewhat scary, chapter of her life. Also please pray that God will continue to be with Bojkena, who finished high school in Washington State and was accepted into a higher learning institution in the New York City area, where she is now living with her two sisters.

Thank you for your continued prayers for and interest in the work God is doing here.

Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus

Tom

August/September 2008

Brothers and sisters -

Below is the pasted-in link to the latest Lushnja Newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it, and rejoice with me in what God is doing here. In addition, there is an attachment which has to do with the efforts that are underway to establish a Christian camping program here. Please read it, and if you can help in any way please respond as indicated in the attachment.

May God enable you to make it a good day for yourself and others.

Praise to his name,

Tom

http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/

Link to Christian Camping Support

 

October-November 2008

First Addition To The “Family” By Biological Birth

I mentioned Alma Kajdo in the last newsletter. Alma has been serving as my translator, as well as working with me in the teaching program, bringing students’ English level up to a standard where I could work with them. Several months ago Alma shared with us that she was pregnant, that it was a girl, and that the baby was due to be born in October. I lobbied hard for naming the baby “Tomasina” if she was born on October 14, my birthday. Alma began praying immediately that the delivery date would not be the 14th. Amelja (Ah-mel-yah) was born on October 28th, and is greatly loved by everyone in her family; Alma, Gramoz, Glenida and Mikael. Alma has been with us in worship recently but, according to local tradition, Amelja has made no public appearances as of yet.

photo


Amelja Kajdo

Kajdo Famiy
Mikael, Amelja, Alma, Gramoz, Glenida

Comings And Goings
Most of my focus is in Lushnja, but I do occasionally make excursions out of the local area. There is a loosely-knit organization in Albania which provides many services to those working with evangelical Christian ministries of various kinds. The services include assistance in being aware of the Albanian law, with its ever-changing face, as well as securing the necessary documents to be 100% in harmony with the law. I was asked to attend a conference in Struga, Macedonia, near the end of October, as a representative for World English Institute. Struga is about a 3-hour drive from Lushnja, so it was not a major travel outing.

As part of the conference we had the opportunity to travel to the city of Ohrid, which contains some very old archeological remains, including a gate of which parts date back to the 2nd century B.C. The excavation and preservation of remains in Macedonia seems to be a jump ahead of the efforts in Albania, and many fascinating sights greet the traveler there.

photo


Ancient amphitheater in Ohrid

photo


2nd Century B.C. gate


photo

Excavated baptistery with mosaic floor

In November I was blessed to be able to travel to Germany to attend the Euro-American Family Retreat, an event I have attended a number of times in the past. This is an event which draws attendees churches of Christ from many countries in Europe, as well as from the U.S. and Guatemala. It is held in various places around Germany, the last several times being presented in Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Originally it was called The A.M.E.N. Retreat (American Military Evangelizing Nations), but as the presence of U.S. troops in Europe declined and European Christians became more prevalent, the name was changed.

This event is always a blessing of both input of spiritual food and association, as well as a little “down time”. Last year three members of the Lushnja church were able to attend with me, but it is a difficult thing for Albanians to secure the necessary documents, as well as being quite expensive for them. So this year I was the lone representative from Lushnja.

There continues to be an every-other month gathering of church leaders and workers from around Albania, which is an important bridge for relationship building. To this point in time we have never been able to get representation from every congregation, but we are getting closer. In November we met at the central congregation in Tirana.

An Opportunity To Serve
Some of you who are somewhat familiar with the Lord’s church in Albania may be puzzled by my reference to “the central congregation” in Tirana. Another congregation has begun in the capital city led by Alfred Dimçi and Kristofor Findiku, and they are having some success in reaching out in the neighborhood around the main hospital in Tirana. A black cloud has come into the picture, however, as the wife of Kristofor, Antoneta, has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She, in her own right, has been a very productive part of the kingdom work, as she has worked with the I.B.I.A. (Sunset’s Albanian satellite school) since its inception. She was able to go to an American hospital in Turkey for treatment. Turkey does not require a visa for Albanian citizens, so there is less red tape than in going to other European countries for treatment. This was, nonetheless, quite an expensive undertaking ($25,000 minimum), $10,000 of which has been secured as of this writing. If you would care to participate in this need you can send your donation to: c/o Bob Seat, Mission Chairman, Adams Boulevard church of Christ, Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74006.

Antoneta has returned from Turkey, and it is hoped she will be able to receive the follow-up treatments here in Albania, rather than having to go out of the country. Part of that depends on the availability of the necessary medicines.


Albania Christian Camp
Last newsletter I mentioned the efforts to revive the very worthwhile project of providing a program and facilities for a camp that would have at its center Christian teachings and values. Everywhere in the world Christians have found this kind of endeavor to be a valuable, upbuilding tool in kingdom-work. Through the generosity of brothers and sisters around the world approximately $4000 has been received or committed toward this project. Some of that ($1500) came from FaithQuest, which is a twenty-year old ministry to the teens of the NW United States, co-sponsored by the Metro church of Christ in Gresham, OR and the Vancouver church of Christ in Vancouver, WA. Each year a contribution is taken among the teens and staff at this event, often by as many as 500 people, with missions as its designated purpose. The appeal letter was shared with the leaders of this ministry and the amount mentioned above was forwarded to us for Albanian Christian Camp. Praise God!! It is hoped that arrangements can progress to the point that camping sessions can be held in the summer of 2009.


View Of The Future, Near And Long-Term
It has been my practice to have a campaign every other year here in Lushnja, using the World English Institute materials. Some have a campaign every year, but it has not seemed the wise thing for that to be the practice here in Lushnja. The primary reason for this has been that there is no way I can adequately follow up on the new students generated through such a campaign. Alma Kajdo does partner with me in this work, but her focus is in bringing new students to an English proficiency level that enables me to proceed with the lessons that include teaching the word of God. In my experience in the States, as well as here, I have seen so many cases of people expressing interest, but not being considered for the teaching process until much later, and by that time having become disillusioned. We have never had to advertise for students publicly since my arrival here over six years ago. We have more than we can follow up on by just word-of-mouth advertising of our current students, and we have a waiting list that is growing every month. Three who have come from the U.S. to work with us in the past have expressed an interest in coming again this summer, and one of those plans to bring along a fourth individual.

Normally I travel to the States every one and one-half years. It appears that I will not be able to follow that schedule, as the time for that visit would fall next summer, as well. If plans continue for the summer camp, my presence will likely be required here to help facilitate that, as I have had much experience in directing camps. One of my brothers and my remaining sister will both celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversaries in June, which I will probably miss, much to my regret. My last visit to the States was at Christmas last year, and it appears that it will be Christmas next year before I am able to make that trip again.

As to long-term involvement, I do not see it as wise for me to leave Albania anytime in the foreseeable future. The problem is having leadership in place to carry on the work. In the church here in Lushnja there is one mature man. However, some of his circumstances indicate that he will not be able to be a stable presence and active leader, at least from what I am able to ascertain, and at least for a period of time. One of the young men who has been baptized here, as reported in other postings, has graduated from the satellite school for Sunset International Bible Institute, and is now working for the school in the city of Durrës. Another of our young men is hoping to be able to attend the same school beginning with the new class in 2010. Many of those young men who might develop into leaders for the church here leave for university and/or work, and that scenario will not likely change soon. I have made a commitment to the church here that I will not make the decision about what person (or when) will be the one to work on a more permanent basis with the church. That is a church decision. Resentment can run deep if someone is given a position of "authority" when others do not have the respect for that person.

To sum up, in the short-term it will probably be another year before I can return to visit my family and my friends and my supporters. In the long-term, I believe God put me here and until I am shown otherwise, I believe I must remain faithful to what he called me to.


Thanksgiving
Once again I must offer my thanksgiving and appreciation to all of you who have sacrificed to make it possible for me to be used by God in the work here. I have been blessed at least as much as I have been able to bring blessings into the lives of people here, especially in helping them to know the saving love of our Savior. Please continue to partner with me, as I explore new and better ways to reach out to this largely Muslim culture. The partnership I seek is first that of your prayers, and then of your financial support.

Another cause for thanksgiving is the continued, largely uninterrupted, supply of electricity. The nationalized power company is in the process of being sold to a company from the Czech Republic. Perhaps that fact (to present a "good face") has kept the power flowing. Perhaps the new owners will be more adept at sustained provision of this needed utility, or perhaps they will do so only at greatly increased cost. Who knows? In the meantime, it is nice to be able to light and heat effectively.


Lifted by, and lifting high, Jesus,

Tom

http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/ (photos are on Tom's blog)

Link to Christian Camping Support

 

January 2009

http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/ (photos are on Tom's blog)

February 2009

THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT
Six and a half years can seem like a long time, or it can seem short. That's the amount of time I have been living in Albania, and in some respects it seems like an eternity. The sense of time being extended during these years comes not from boredom or frustration, but from the vast amount of change that has taken place within the country, within the lives of the people God has led me to, and within me. So much new construction here in Lushnja gives the impression of prosperous development, though one wonders who can afford to buy, or even rent, all these new sites. Corruption in all aspects of life is being confronted, though not necessarily eliminated. In the long term I know I must wait until this existence comes to an end before the effects of the gospel in Lushnja can be measured.

The sense of delayed time plays off of the same set of circumstances. Albania is striving hard to be a part of the 21st century, which is not an easy undertaking, given its history. The past has a strong hold on so much of the culture here, and some are very reluctant to release their hold on that aspect of their lives. Tradition is not necessarily a bad thing, and can be a good thing, unless it keeps us from doing what is the best thing. In the sort term, we are looking for God to continue to lead us to souls that are thirsty for the water of life. As Jesus said "The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few".

CHRISTIAN CAMP
I have shared before regarding the efforts being made to rekindle the Christian camping program initially begun by Virgil and Jackie Jackson. Things are progressing, but much more remains to be done. Though I have a lot of experience in the camping scene, I have chosen to defer to the Albanian brethren, wherever possible. I have stated since I first arrived here in Albania that it is my desire to create an Albanian church, not an American transplant. That carries over into all the activities done in the name of the Lord, and to the glory of the Lord, such as this camp setting.

A board meeting of the camp was held, and a preliminary budget was outlined. Admittedly, it has some "fluff" in it, but that can easily be removed. The biggest unknown is individual camper fees, since so many here cannot afford the cost of a week at camp. Encouragement will be given to each church to assist young people from their congregation to attend the camp, but even that is a stretch. So the budget has been planned not reliant on the camper fees, and is thus seemingly large. The budget is $31,300 for this initial year, and that amount will hopefully far exceed the need, and can be lowered for subsequent years. At this time approximately $6,160 has been raised toward this project. We understand that the world's economy is in very bad shape right now, but if you as individuals or congregations can assist in getting this project off the ground, it will be a great blessing to the struggling young church in Albania. If you care to participate, make a notation on the checks "Albanian Camp", and send the donations to:

Metro church of Christ
Albanian Christian Camp
1525 NW Division Street
Gresham, OR 97030

SUMMER ACTIVITIES
The summer season is a very busy time here, as in many places. This summer the camp will take a good bit of my attention. The summertime is when teaching campaigns are usually held, as well. In addition, it is one of the few times of the year when out-of-country excursions can be planned to which church members can be invited.

The teaching program, using the World English Institute materials, is a year-round program for which we never lack for students. It is a good thing to provide opportunities for Christians from the States to come here and experience interaction with the Albanian Christians. I normally have tried to have a summer campaign every other year, and this year would be the "on" year. However, given the activities mentioned above, plus some others I will relate to you in future newsletters, I have made a decision to not have a campaign this year. I regret this development especially because it negates the wonderful opportunity for cross-culture Christian friendships to begin and be nurtured.

"OUR" BABY
You have seen in a previous report a picture of Gramoz and Alma Kajdo's new little one, Amelja, now four months old. She has been a pretty sick little girl recently, having been battling bronchitis, but seems to have "turned the corner". I am including a photo of Amelja, complete with a tube protruding from the top of her head through which the medicines were administered while she was hospitalized.

This was a new "look" for me, and I don't know if is done that way in the States, but I have since seen many young children on TV with similar "adornments". This has been a pretty bad flu season here, especially for the very young and the elderly, and the TV reports on the status regularly.

GOD AT WORK
While we can always want, work, and plan for greater results, we leave the control in the hands of God. I am thankful that those who sent me here, and provide for me to stay here, do not have a specified agenda, complete with numbers and quotas. Every day God allows me to speak for him, in many ways. I have students with whom spiritual matters are discussed regularly, and I meet people in the course of my daily life to whom I can show Jesus.

Currently, we are averaging about twenty in our worship on Sundays. Very often (usually, in fact) there are more non-members present than members. So many of those who have been converted here are now in other places, and we pray they are seeking to stay in touch with the body. We know from experience that such will not be true of all of them, but I "prod them from afar" from time to time. Only eternity will tell the true results of the labor of any of us. I am working to build on the only true foundation, Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:10-15), and I am praying that the work will result in a building that will stand in the day of judgment, so our God can be glorified.

CONTINUED APPRECIATION
Again I must thank God for his wonderful provision through his wonderful saints. It is such a blessing to partner with so many of you in telling the story of God's matchless love to the people of Albania. Many have sacrificed much to enable this ministry to be a reality; many more pray often for the gospel to have free course in the lives of people here.

We must always be aware that Satan is never happy when this story is told, and will do whatever he can to undermine its effectiveness. It is my constant prayer that I will not allow Satan to use me to undermine the very message I am proclaiming. May our God be glorified in my life, and in yours, the praise of his wonderful name.


Held in his arms of love,

Tom

May 2009

Brothers and sisters -

Below is the link to the latest, somewhat delayed, newsletter. I pray that you will continue to lift us up before the Father, asking for His guidance and strength for what we are doing here. Thanks to so many of you for "coming alongside" in the this work.

Your brother

Tom

http://www.lushnjanewsletter.blogspot.com/

TOP

     

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For More Information Contact

Gresham Office
Metro Church of Christ
1525 NW Division Street
Gresham, OR 97030 Tel. (503) 661-0348
Fax (503) 666-8309
E-mail: weiady@aol.com
Web: www.weiady.org


 

Maryville Office
Maryville Church of Christ
PO Box 5293
Maryville, TN 37802
Tel: (865) 983-0945
Fax: (865) 983-1984
E-Mail: weimaryville@aol.com
Web: www.weiady.org