Our first project in Albania is under way!
What began as a trip to explore widows needs in 2014 has resulted in eager learners in Bathore.
Our partner is Enkeleda Kumaraku, founder of Radio 7 in Tirana. Partnering through a church, these motivated women have great needs and have experienced great loss. With children to support and few opportunities in Bathore, which is on the outskirts of Tirana, they will learn quickly and have new opportunities in that capitol.
“Albania’s beauty is beyond words. Mountains rising on either side of silver rivers, lush vineyards, roses of hews I’ve never seen before.”
Its contrasts are equally beyond description. Sleek new buildings, the capital Tirana bustling with buses, cabs, and Mercedes in abundance. And old men leading their milk cows along highways. Old women cutting down cornstalks with machetes bundling them for winter use.
The Albania I visited in 1998 is no more.
Yet it seems in conflict with itself. Wanting to become economically vigorous, many are unemployed, sections of new highways are connected by dangerous tiny two ways best traveled in daylight. No wonder Albania’s symbol, the two headed eagle, with the heads facing opposite directions, is still relevant today.
I came away leaving another chunk of my heart there. (Yes, one chunk has been left behind in Africa.) It’s people are real, unpretentious, marked deeply by past wars, reserved in awarding their trust, tied to tradition, yet yearning for better ways for themselves and their children.
I came to appreciate the work worn handshakes of war widows. After hearing their stories, I imagine that the calluses on their hearts could be greater than those on their hands.
I was greeted with warmth by Kumaraku family members who would be my hosts, guides, early morning wake up knocks on my door, and late night sorting and pondering the jam packed days. Extended family under one roof is common. But the Kumaraku family is uncommon. Enkeleda, who started Radio 7 had invited me through our contacts at National Religious Broadcasters. 7 months pregnant, husband Shayne hovered near her, and sisters Jona and Majlinda are full time, all in partners in Radio 7. Mom, Louiza and Dad complete the family. Late night dinners, eaten in the kitchen with all of us packed in, conversations were sometimes English, sometimes Albanian, which of course, I did not understand.
Our trips took us to Prishtina Kosovo to see Radio 7’s new station there, and Gjakova to visit with war widows, hear their stories and encourage them. Sharing God’s great love for widows and His ability to strengthen and defend them, my time with them was too short. Yes, I shared the stories of courageous widows in Scripture.
I was humbled by their acceptance of me, this stranger who only shared the common bond of widowhood, and little else. Many had seen their husband’s murdered, fled with multiple children and lived in conditions beyond description simply to survive.”
My narrative of that visit was much longer. But you can see why Widow Connection would want to come along side these courageous women. What started in October 2014 with a visit will change the lives of many. These women, their children, and folks looking on seeing that God cares for widows. Baby Andrew is 4 months old now. The Kumaraku household is bustling more, and I’m eager to go back this fall and attend their graduation.
Albania Update October 2015
Why Albania? Who is our partner on the ground? Can we impact the lives of forgotten women there? Widow Connection asks serious questions. And when we act, we’re all in!
I’m back from an incredible time in Albania and a quick day trip to Kosovo. Our first assessment was right on. These women are wounded by war, blood feud, and hard living, yet eager to work hard, and committed to better lives for their children.
One highlight was the graduation of our trained tailors. They achieved the greatest skill level of any project so far. Look at this jacket! Fully lined, smooth shoulder pads, lapels as crisp as any you’d see in a high end clothing store. Accolades to two great trainers, Arta and Aida. These trainers are believers who encourage the students spiritually in the challenges they face.
Vjollca’s story gripped my heart. 4 children to support, her youngest disabled, her challenges are great. Her smile of pride as I shook her hand was radiant. And she wanted her picture WITH her children. Her disabled son was having a good day and could partially stand alone. There are no words! Yes, her future is bright. Living on the outskirts of the capitol, Tirana, she can work in her own home with her graduation present, her own machine. A new life for all five. And her mother was there cheering her on.
Another great highlight was seeing, opening, realizing our DVD for widows in Albanian. This project was not in our plan for 2015, But when the need was presented, there was no answer but ,”Yes.” The widows featured are Albanian, not an ‘americanized’ version. They are brave, inspiring, and communicate with Albanians. The accompanying journal uses our graphics and concepts. But is in Albanian! Yes, I wept. I was able to meet these women. They say that being able to encourage others by being filmed and communicating God’ strength in their time of need, they were again blessed to be helping others.
Just in case you think our travels are glamorous, think again. A flat tire on the way home after a long day in Kosovo. A good samaritan. Thank you, Lord.
Yes, radio is always a part of any trip. God smiles, I think Bob is smiling too!
Part of our international travels includes connecting with the nationals who serve there. We have so much in common: greater challenges and opportunity than our felt energy supply of the day, families to love, miles to cover. My travel partner and daughter, Valerie Hogan meets with Albanian missionary church planters, Rudina and Kejdis Bakalli to encourage them.