Thursday, May 28, 2015

Albania Day 1 : Amphitheater and Vlashaj

We slept hard on the boat.   We never even felt it moving, but woke up pretty well rested.  We arrived in Durres at 8 a.m. and after going through customs the Waggoners were there to greet us with breakfast, which was so thoughtful of them. We were so glad to see them.  It was wonderful to see familiar friends who knew the area and know the language, and to know it was no longer up to us to find our way.

After we left the dock, we visited the Durres amphitheater. Outside was the "Rruga Egnatia." This was the Roman Road that ran from the Adriatic Sea through northern Greece and up through Turkey.  It was most likely the road Paul used to reach Phillippi, Galatia and Thessalonica.  The most preserved parts of the road today are in Albania. 

Inside the amphitheater we were able to explore the stairs and corridors. Originally the amphitheater was able to hold 15,000-20,000 people.  Debris from a tsunami buried the ancient site for centuries until it was discovered in the 1960s. The amphitheater was used for entertainment, especially the gladiator games. Christians were put to death here as well. On the right is the area believed to house lions.  Nathan shared the scripture in Hebrews 11 about those who had died before us, having not seen what was promised, but now we are the fruit of their sacrifice. He then took a moment to pray for our time in Albania. 

We also were able to see a fresco from a chapel  dedicated to the Christian martyrs that was built in the stadium after it was no longer in use.

We arrived at the Waggoner's home, had lunch, and then helped Nathan map out a 4 square court. The village kids arrive every day at 4 to play basketball, 4 square and volleyball. When the kids arrived our kids did not hesitate, they jumped right into the thick of things. The language barrier was never an issue.  Hand gestures and charades worked just fine. The village kids were excited to have a new 4 square ball that we brought over for them.  The Waggoners let us know before we came that they had just recently taught the kids how to play, but that they only had a plain plastic ball to play with.

They played until 5:30 and then we hiked to the water tower that overlooks the village. Along the way we inadvertently gathered kids from the village. Once there we prayed over the village and for our time there.

Nathan and Cydil had things to do back at the house before dinner, so we went to the lake above the village with the kids we had gathered along the way. They helped us with our Albanian. We enjoyed getting to know them as well.

We got back just in time for dinner at 7. We then spent time with both of our families debriefing.  Having only been there for half a day, we already felt at home and part of the family.  We were so excited to finally be in this country we had longed to see for so many years. 

It had been a very long day; however, so it was off to bed.

The Village of Vlashaj

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Our trip Part 1: Getting There

We arrived home safely on Monday, May 4th, and spent the first weeks getting our bearings and waiting on the phone company to repair our internet connection.  During this time it's been great to begin to process the trip and reflect on all that God did with the time there.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. The grace of God was evident throughout our journey.

April 21, 2015
We were up at 5 a.m. with our suburban already packed and drove to Atlanta.  We encountered a little rush hour traffic, but still made it by 9:15 for a 12 pm flight. 

We started off at the wrong terminal. International destination, but a domestic stop in D.C. meant we had to get over to the domestic terminal.  Fortunately we had a 2.5 hr wait.

We loved seeing the kids faces during takeoff. For most of them it was their first plane ride, and a great start to our adventure.

We had a 3 hr layover in D.C. where we ate dinner, and then boarded a 9 hour flight to Rome.  The kids were thrilled to have movie screens in front of them, but eventually we had to force them to try and get some sleep.  

We landed in Rome at 8am (2 am EST). Quite an experience for the kids. We caught a 50 minute bus to Roma Termini train station where we had a several hours to kill. At the station there are storage rooms where we were able to pay for our luggage to be kept so we wouldn't have to carry it all thru the streets. Unfortunately we forgot we weren't in America. The phrase "Can I help you?" means that there is a fee attached.

We got our bags locked away and quickly escaped the train station. It was a bit of overload for our tired kiddos. We did a bit of sight seeing, taking refuge in St. Maria's basilica where it was quiet and cool.

We had arranged to meet our good friend Tony Morra from Naples during our layover.  We hadn't seen him since 2009 when he interned at our church. He treated us to pizza and we were able to spend time getting caught up. We were pretty exhausted, but it was good to see a familiar face. He helped us figure out what platform our train would arrive at and he was off to catch his train back home. He took an hour train ride just to see us for such a short time, but it meant the world to us. 

We waited to see which platform our train would arrive at only to discover the underground  door to the platform was closed. So we ran with 7 kids and ALL our luggage in tow to the other side of the train station and just made it. It was a 4 hr train ride and we were all able to sleep on and off.  It was good to finally be able to relax. 

We arrived in Bari at 6:45 p.m. We could not find anyone who spoke English or any signs to direct us.  We knew we had to take a bus to the ferry but could not tell which one.  As we were trying to buy tickets the man behind the counter could only say "20" and was trying to communicate something more with hand signals. A young man who did speak English walked up out of nowhere and explained we needed bus "20 /" He then brought us to the bus stop, showed us what time the bus would be coming and then walked off. While we were waiting, another young man asked what bus we were waiting for and began keeping watch for us.  When it pulled into the stop, he called us over to it and then walked away.

Thankfully we had researched and knew we needed to go to the ticket booth separate from where the ferry docks.  On the bus, other Albanians were signaling to us where our stop was.  We walked to the ticket counter and one of the Albanians from the bus introduced himself and his father in English.

Inside we were told that the office was closed and our new Albanian friends explained that we would have to catch a bus and travel 2 km down the road to purchase ferry tickets. They helped us get to the alternate ticket booth, got us thru customs and made sure we got on the right van for our ferry. If we had not met them we would not have made our ferry in time. We know this was totally God's provision. Running from one spot to the next Aaron was telling the kids "This is what happens when we totally place ourselves in God's hands!" We are so thankful they got to witness all of this first hand.

We boarded the ferry about 9 pm., overpaid for a small dinner, and went straight to our berths, each equipped with bunks and full baths.  Boys with Aaron, girls with Jen. We showered, read some scripture, prayed and went to bed. 10 hrs later we arrived in Durres, Albania and met the Waggoner family, 42 hrs after leaving our home in Georgia.