What is more magical: a beanstalk that reaches to the clouds or a stalk that produces beans? An enchanted apple that puts the princess to sleep or a magical tree that grows fruit without any enchantment at all? In G.K. Chesterton’s masterpiece orthodoxy, he calls this “Elfland”.
A definition for the word fantasy is “the free expression of a creative mind”. When we take the time to look around us we see a world interacting in ways so far beyond our imagination it is fantastical. It displays the free expression of an omniscient God creating for a universe that would reveal Himself to us (Romans 1:20). This was the theme for our conference this year.
Our Mediterranean Conference was held in the beautiful village of Permet in southern Albania. Ringed by the Pindus mountain range, and cut through by the Vjosa river, it was the perfect setting for our week-long conference. Each day we looked at a different aspect of God’s fantastic revelation. Starting with creation itself, we then considered man, made a little lower than the angels and given dominion over His creation. The providence of God, keeping all things together for His purpose. The Word of God, which is perfect and eternal. and finally the plan of God, first in salvation, and then for the believer which He performs by His grace.
Daily activities consisted of trips to the natural wonders God made for this part of the world. We spent a day at some mineral springs which flow from the sides of the mountains and are caught in large man made cisterns before spilling over into the river. It was here that we had our baptisms in front of many Albanian vacationers. Another day we traveled into the heart of the mountains for a picnic. Near Saranda we went to a natural treasure known as “Syri i Kalter” or “The blue Eye”. It is a water source which is over 50 meters deep and bubbles up into a crystal clear river. People ask me if you can drink the water in Albania, and the truth is I have never drank better water than here. As we drove back to the hotel we stopped at “Uji Ftohte” in Tepelene where we filled our water bottles from the ice-cold water running naturally out of the rocks.
The fellowship of the Body was wonderful. The hotel was clean and quiet. The restaurant was a separate building. It was not open for business but the owner let us use the entire facility for sessions and eating. We pooled our monies, bought groceries, and had all our meals together as one family. Great traditional meals were made by both the men and women of the church.
Sweetest of Tastes
Permet is known for its honey, which is produced from the spring flowers that grow on the mountainsides. A lady from the church lead us along the back roads of the village to the place we could find the best honey. It was a building about 2 meters square with a small freezer of cheese (also the best in the world) and 2 liter bottles filled with honey on the shelves above. Is this not a fantasy world where the sweetest of tastes comes from such a source? We bought two bottles.
My son, eat thou honey, because it is good, and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off. Proverbs 24:13-14
Mission to Macedonia and Kosovo
Many well meaning people warned us about doing open air evangelism in the Muslim strongholds of Macedonia and Kosovo. These cities identify themselves with their Muslim religion as pockets of Albanian culture in foreign lands. But the church in Albania is blessed with many young men who are willing to go out into the streets with the Gospel with a heart for their fellow Albanians. These people need Christ and no rumor of lions in the streets would deter them.
These people need Christ and no rumor of lions in the streets would deter them. Click To Tweet
We decided on 5 cities in 2 countries. The first was Struga, Macedonia on Lake Ohrid. My first time leading a summer harvest, I reserved a cheap hostel in the village on the internet. A team of 7 men and 2 women accompanied me. Unfortunately, the hostel wasn’t what I had expected. I put five men together in a dorm room. It turned out that it was a penthouse suite overlooking the lake and mountains. The balcony alone was nearly the size of my apartment. The picture of the suffering missionary was lost on these men.
The next day we strolled down to the lake at 06:30 to a little cafe on a dock to discuss the day’s plan. A nice old man heard our requests, saying “awesome” after each order. It wasn’t until we
had waited about 15 minutes for our coffees that some of my Bulgarian started coming back to me. “Ocem” in Macedonian is the number 8. The man was saying that the cafe wouldn’t open until 8. We would be waiting a long time. I felt better, this is missions.
Power of That Small Witness
Struga is a tourist town so we did our evangelism on the walking street and next to the small river that runs through its heart. The people were open to the Gospel. We brought out our portable amplifier and guitar and sang worship music as we passed out tracts. Sketch board on the street was well received.
The next town in Macedonia was Tetovo. Totally different atmosphere than Struga. Islam is deeply embedded in the region and it was obvious as we filed off the bus. We would only be there for a few hours, so we needed to quickly get to the city center and pray. We brought out the sketch board and divided into groups. I was with Tomi, a strong man from the north of Albania and one not afraid to meet head on any challenge. We spoke to three men in traditional Albanian dress who knew their own religion well. By the end of the debate they were shaking our hands and I hope were considering their beliefs. Some people welcomed us, some scowled, but you could almost see the spiritual warfare involved in that small witness. We all reentered like Jonathan after he had dipped his rod in the honey. Our eyes were enlightened to the power of God in the Gospel. We were ready for Kosovo.
We arrived in Prishtina late and found the hostel. This was the place I had expected. The smell of unwashed flesh and dust permeated the place. When the only English words the proprietor of an establishment knows are “No problem”, assume there are plenty. The Arab dressed men on the bottom floor who only spoke French were complaining that their toilet didn’t work. That seemed to be the case for most rooms. We weren’t here for the rooms, and our 2 days in Kosovo were to be busy.
Up early, we found the main square and walking streets close to the hostel. We hit the streets all day, with music, sketch board, street preaching, tract passing. Exhilarated by the time in Tetovo, we held nothing back.
People would ask if we had been punched for evangelizing, but it never happened. In the heart of this Muslim nation we were bold as lions. Not of ourselves, but the freedom we had was unexplainable. I stood next to a sketch board I had just finished, with the cross emblazon in red, while men in beards walked by. Some stopped and voiced their disapproval, but most entered into conversations with the team. one of the most rewarding things for me on these trips is to watch the others. Men and women from the church sharing their faith and convictions publicly. I can’t teach that, it is Spirit taught.
The next day the police came to our hostel and took the Arab men away. Little did they know, we were the real radicals. Our next stop was Gjakovo. Another lovely city and again Muslim. We sat under a statue of Mother Teresa and prayed. For some hours we passed out tracts and did street evangelism. We didn’t stay long, we had one more stop before heading home.
Prizren is just across the border from Albania. We arrived mid afternoon and hungry. The church money had miraculously lasted and we had enough to treat us all to lunch, even with tres leches for dessert. The outreach was in a park near the center. One man told me what his Imam said about the various religions. My response was “What if your Imam is wrong?” This was a pretty dangerous thing to imply, but God was in it. He didn’t get angry, instead he thought about it. To lovingly challenge belief systems to see if they can stand up to reason is safe for us because the Gospel does. Religion blinds us to logic and reason. But with the Gospel of Jesus Christ we have a logical reason for the hope that is within us.
Fantastic Ways of God
God’s ways are fantastic, and beyond finding out. But He beckons us on, to seek Him, to know His love which passes knowledge, to live by faith and experience the impossible. The enemy roams this earth roaring as a lion, but we come with the gracious words of truth. We destroy his plan, and eat the honey from the carcass of the lion.
Thank you all for your continued support and prayers for the Balkans and the work in Albania. By God’s grace, the Gospel is going forth.
Pastor Dennis, Jayne, and Ruth Hulett