There Is No God!
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!
Despite long hours and long days serving food and love to very poor families, my baby arrived none the worse at 10 lbs, 4 oz, attended by a Christian midwife courtesy of the National Health Service, in a beautiful birthing centre in Hampshire. This pattern of God’s amazing provision has been evidenced all the way through our sixteen years in Albania. Daniel Ezra arrived in 2000. Jonathan Josiah arrived in 2003 and was born at home, in Albania, delivered by an English Christian midwife.
God has proven His name, Jehovah Jireh, over and over again as we have run a busy ministry and homeschooled five children. Imagine our incredulous delight when God began speaking about us buying land and building a home! Without telling others our needs, God prompted people to provide all the finances. A beautiful house is now under construction on a breathtaking hill spanning views to the east, south, and west of Albania. I delightedly proclaim: Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory! (See Ephesians 3:20.)
As Joshua and Joanna grew and Samuel Nicholas arrived, homeschooling began to evolve with lots of fun, preschool material. Teaching Josh and Joanna to read and write was no problem, and Samuel almost taught himself!
In 2000 Daniel Ezra arrived whilst we were on furlough in the UK. We were tentatively putting out feelers for some sort of programme to help me teach Josh, now 7; Joanna, 5; and Samuel 2½ (and already beginning to read and write). We stumbled upon the ACE programme, distributed in the UK by TEACH (The European Academy for Christian
Homeschooling). We jumped at the opportunity to brush shoulders with more experienced homeschoolers (deemed as very strange creatures in the UK at the time).
Being isolated on the mission field created the big challenge of finding others to advise and encourage us. Thankfully TEACH’s pastoral director was always there on the other end of the telephone!
As we live in the mission house/church centre and Albanians are tremendously friendly, sociable creatures, we soon realized I couldn’t maintain “school” and minister to all the urgent and desperate cases coming my way. We decided to rent a room 100 yards down the road, in a neighbour’s house. There we “did” school for about seven years. It meant turning a blind eye to most of my domestic duties! A dear lady in the church came and cleaned the house and cooked a basic lunch for us each day. Thankfully, because most people (including me!) now realise I am not available in the mornings, we have been able to resume school at home.
Last but not the least of our fabulous children is Jonathan Josiah, born here, in the church office in fact, in a portable birthing pool. He is now 7 years old. All five are now in school using the ACE programme.
We have had to diversify somewhat with one of our boys who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. Back in the UK, summer 2009, we visited an educational specialist who offered practical advice on tackling some of our boy’s special needs. We found a great programme from the U.S. (advertised in TOS magazine actually) called Math-U-See, which our son has been enjoying. We also bought a handbook for teaching dyslexics, recommended in the UK, called The Hickey Multisensory Language Course (ISBN 1-86156-178-4, Publisher’s website: www.whurr.co.uk), and from that I developed exercises and flash cards (used daily). This child still apparently “hates” reading and writes only under duress, but he is slowly and surely gaining confidence. The only drawback to the Math-U-See programme is that it requires a bit more teacher preparation than I find I can give. My boy would get more from this programme if I were more involved. Maybe that could be said of most things. However, the beauty of the ACE programme is that a not-very-organized, over-committed, multi-tasking, wish-I-was-a-lot-better-at-this-than-I-am, homeschooling mother of five can give each of her kids something resembling a fairly decent education!
How quickly we have moved from nappies and preschoolers, etc., to teenagers and preparation for the big, wide world! It has really taken us by surprise. This year Joshua will graduate with his ICCE (International Certificate of Christian Education) General Certificate (the equivalent of UK GCSE O’ levels). He is then planning on spending much of 2011 in Germany. He will be living with some former missionary friends, working and learning the language, before starting sixth form College in the UK, at age 17, nearly 18, in September. Meanwhile, the rest of the family will be remaining here, on the mission field that God led us to more than sixteen years ago. Thanks to homeschooling, we have been able to remain faithful to God’s call to be His ambassadors in the land where atheists once proclaimed to the world: “There is no God!”
It would be misleading to say this journey has been without heartache, without challenges and disappointments. It might sound strange, but every painful experience we have had has been the result of our lack of knowledge about the goodness of God. He’s been immensely patient, longing to bless us and to use us to bless this most needy nation.
Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Winter 2010-11.
Used with permission. Visit them at theoldschoolhouse.com and view a sample copy of the magazine.