There Is No God? A Missionary Family's Journey
- Friday, April 22, 2011
Picture a blissful June afternoon in 1991, a marquee on the lawn of an old Devonshire rectory, guests happily mingling and posing with the bride and groom. What a perfect beginning God gave to our marriage! Who could have imagined that within two and a half years we would have exchanged our cozy Hampshire cottage, job security, etc for . . . Albania!
“Where’s that?” we ignorantly asked David, a Christian real estate appraiser and work friend of my husband’s. He was eagerly inviting us to help teach basic, free market economics at Tirana University for a week. Nick, my husband, reluctantly agreed to pray about it. Amazingly God spoke to Nick from Acts 16:9: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”
It was December 1991: Communism had fallen and a technocrat government was barely keeping Albania from anarchy. People were killed rioting for bread whilst we were there. Communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, had kept the country in a repressive, isolating stranglehold since 1944. He outlawed religion and in 1967 declared officially to the world, “There is no God!” By 1991 the poverty was shocking. We looked around, stunned; could this really be Europe?
Being among the first foreigners to arrive, our message of love and hope in a Savior was met with incredible openness. I couldn’t wait to return! However, Miss Impulsive had married Mr. Planner; not until baby Joshua Jeremy arrived did things start moving again. A visiting American evangelist confirmed our vision of being sent out as missionaries to do the work of the Spirit. We knew then that God was going to give us a love for the people and faith for the finances.
Further gentle encouragements from God and an inner conviction led us to pack up, bid farewell (amidst strong opposition from some quarters), and fly across Europe, arriving in Albania on 26 April, 1994, with our 6-month-old baby. When God first spoke to us, we had no financial assurance, no Albanian language skills, no Bible College training—crazy! But as we took each step of obedience in faith, God met us. We began to pastor a busy German church plant in Elbasan, central Albania, amidst revival. People were so hungry! They didn’t even know what they were hungry for! They needed food, clothing, and medicines, yes, but they were also spiritually hungry.
Meanwhile, within less than two years Joanna Constance arrived. I was immersed in motherhood, missionary style! Life wasn’t always easy, food wasn’t plentiful, we were living and working with Germans (another culture) and Albanians (still another culture), and tensions were inevitable.
In 1997, the fledgling democracy exploded as thousands of citizens lost around $1.2 billion of savings in shady pyramid banking schemes. Their rage turned on the government, who had publicly endorsed the schemes. Gangsters overran the country, looting Army depots: virtual anarchy ensued. Nearly all foreigners fled. Intrigued English journalists asked, “So why did you stay?” Our explanation that Jesus can be trusted was aired on BBC News to millions throughout Britain.
We saw supernatural protection on several occasions, as when Luan (an Albanian coworker) was taken hostage and held at gunpoint so that a masked gang could enter our compound. Only hours before, God had impressed us to move all vehicles to a safer place. The thugs burst into an empty yard and left empty-handed, their ears ringing with the Gospel. What kept us going during these grueling months when we weren’t even sure if we would find more food and when I didn’t know if Nick would return from street preaching surrounded by flying bullets?
God was there through it all. We declared forty days of prayer and fasting, and five other churches joined us every morning for four hours of worship and intercession. The unity and love were amazing. By the end of six weeks I discovered my Albanian language skills markedly improved, and an even better surprise was the news that Samuel Nicholas had been conceived at the height of the violence!
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