Team Chicago Missions Banquet - Albania
Team Chicago Missions Banquet – Albania
Thursday, March 29, 2001
A. Your Eminences, clergy, honored guests: welcome and good evening. It was with great excitement that I received an invitation to speak at tonight’s missions banquet, which is being held this year in honor of the man whom I love and regard as a personal hero and source of inspiration – His Beatitude ARCHBISHOP ANASTASIOS.
B. Upon graduating from Penn State in December of 1999, I had the great honor and privilege of serving with the Orthodox Church in Albania for six months. With the invitation of Fr. Luke Veronis and the blessing of Archbishop Anastatsios, the OCMC sent me to Albania as a short-term missionary. It is for this reason that I’ve been invited to speak with you tonight – to share with you my experience in Albania.
II. Why I went to Albania / Present situation of Albania
A. So, why did I decide to go to Albania to live for six months? I suppose it was a combination of many reasons:
- My four years at Penn State was a time of learning, asking questions, and spiritual growth. By the time it was all over, I wanted to go out and see the world.
- My life up to that point had been all receiving and gathering for myself, and I wanted to give something back.
- Also, I knew that by going to a developing country like Albania, my eyes would be opened to the physical suffering common to most of the world, but foreign to my own life in America.
- For all these reasons, I decided to go to Albania as a short-term missionary
B.During my stay in Albania I immediately witnessed the difficult living conditions of the Albanians, which oftentimes leads to hopelessness and despair.
C. I want to tell you the situation of Joan, a student whom I befriended at the university, and whose life illustrates the hopelessness most people feel.
- Joan is a 23-year old Albanian student who graduated from the university with high honors, and a degree in electrical engineering.
- In a country like America, Joan could look forward to a very secure and successful career. But in Albania, he will probably have to settle for more menial work like selling fruits at the market just to make a living.
- There are just not enough jobs for promising young Albanians like Joan, and their only other hope is to leave Albania to find work in another country.
- The last time I spoke with Joan, he was very afraid of his future. He sees his older sister who is married with two kids. Her husband is unemployed and they were forced to move into the one-bedroom apartment of their parents’ home. This is not the kind of life a person aspires to live, whether in Albania or in any part of the world.
The situation in Albanian is one of a difficult life, and a dark and uncertain future, for young and old people alike. These are the conditions the Orthodox Church of Albania is working in.
III. The ministry of the Church
A. However, amidst all the poverty, hopelessness, and despair, through the visionary leadership of Archbishop Anastasios, God is performing miracles through the Orthodox Church in Albania.
B. In just 10 years: over 200 churches built and restored, a new seminary producing over 100 priests, catechism classes offered in the cities and in remote villages, a beautiful hospital clinic, schools and daycare centers, an icon studio, Byzantine music classes offered to the lay people. Organized lay ministries including weekly visits to prisons, orphanages, and the sick.
- As a short-term missionary in Albania, I got involved with the ministries of the Church that I really loved, namely teaching English at the seminary, leading small group Bible studies at the university, and visiting the children at the many orphanages in Albania.
- IV. Ministry of patient love
A. I’d like to share a story with you from one of the orphanages that the seminarians and I often visited. Of all the memorable experiences I had during my stay in Albania, I’m sharing this one with you because it reflects the power of the Church’s ministry in Albanian – which is a ministry of patient and persistent love to all people.
- This particular orphanage was for mentally and physically handicapped children. Due to the economic hardships of the orphanage, the children received very limited attention and care. The conditions were awful. Even by Albanian standards, many of the seminarians did not enjoy visiting this orphanage because of the depressing environment.
- Every week as we walked into the orphanage, all the children would look towards us, and the ones who were not confined to wheelchairs would run to us and jump into our arms. It was a unique feeling to have a child you had never met before wrapping his arms and legs around you with all of his might. The children didn’t want toys or any material gifts; they simply thirsted for human love and contact. But in order to put the child down, you had to use physical force to push him off, or else it would be impossible to give attention to the other children. The children in wheelchairs yelled for us to come to them, and they simply wanted us to acknowledge them, touch them, or simply push them in their wheelchairs. All of this showed us how little love and human contact these children received.
- But even among these neglected children, there were a group of very sick children who were confined to their beds. A few of us would go into these rooms and sing to the children, make them laugh, and hold them.
- One boy in particular, who was blind and deaf, would lie motionless on his bed and never make a sound. He would just lie on his bed with his thumb in his mouth, alone with his thoughts. Moreover, whenever we tried to touch him, he would push us away and make a loud noise, cueing us to leave him alone. This went on for several months and disturbed us greatly. I even questioned what God’s purpose was for a boy like this who must have been suffering so much, and couldn’t even express his pain.
- Then, on my very last visit to the orphanage before leaving Albania, something happened, a miracle. When we touched the boy on his shoulder, he began to smile. Again, we touched his little face and caressed his hair, and a big smile lit up his beautiful face as he giggled and held my hand to his cheek. He even allowed us to pick him up, and he embraced our necks with his arms, and he accepted our love.
- I’ll never forget the joy I experienced on that day. How after so many months this boy accepted our love, and his whole countenance was transformed.
- I learned a valuable lesson that day. I learned that I never have the right to question God’s providence for those who are suffering. It is simply our duty as Orthodox Christians to love all people, and to ease their suffering.
B. I share this story, because I feel that it reflects the ministry of the Orthodox Church in Albania.
- It’s a ministry that quietly and patiently shows love to all people, truly bearing an authentic witness to Christ Himself.
- This love and presence of Christ, manifested in the living body of the Church, has power to transform people.
- In Albania, I witnessed this power of the Church transforming an entire nation.
- And I believe that the Universal Church, working with this same apostolic fire, can transform the entire world.
- If our fellow Orthodox should ever doubt this transforming power of our Church, then invite them to come to Albania, or to Africa, or to Guatemala, or to any other dynamic mission of our Church, and to see for themselves.
- V. Conclusion
A. In Conclusion, I firmly believe that that the Lord has freely given to us here in America, so that we may freely give to a materially and spiritually deprived world.
- As Archbishop Anastasios says, what matters is not what we say or do for the world, but what the Lord will say and do through us.
- My short-term mission trip to Albania has reawakened within me the apostolic fire and zeal to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16).
- I hope that tonight’s gathering has the same effect for all of you.
- This way, we may experience together, the joy and privilege of working in the Lord’s global vineyard, “Making disciples of all nations.”