Tuesday, December 15, 2009


It’s been a month of movement. Ireland, Albania, and now Turkey. Saturday-week was a transit day. Five hours by car from Erseka to Tirana. Short flight to Istanbul. Short flight to Antalya. Three hours by car from Antalya to Kaş.

A lot of face time with drivers.

The Bible School arranged for this young man Tony to drive me. He came from Tirana on Friday, arriving early enough to set up shop for the school, staff and church folks. Haircuts and new “do’s” all round. At 7:20 am Saturday we hit the road. I didn’t know Tony. Still shaky from a day of Morocco-crud, I was ready to hunker in and sleep.

Tony was ready to talk.

In broken English, he shared a LOT of life. I wish I could write with his words, but 10 days after—well, here’s some of his story.

Albania is arguably the poorest country in Europe. There’s not much work. The national economy, and almost every family, survives on money sent home by those who leave the country for work. Many, many young men go to Greece to labor in the jobs nobody else wants. Think, on the social scale, of Mexican illegals in the US, or Turkish “guestworkers” in Germany, or Pakistani laborers in UAE, or Eastern European factory workers in UK.

Tony went Greece the first time on forged documents. Eventually he was arrested and deported, and lost everything he’d earned. Penalty: a three-year ban on any legal application to enter Greece.

Tony stayed in Albania until unemployment again grew intolerable. This time he went into Greece over the mountain behind Erseka. Gramozi’s top marks the Greek border, and it’s just three miles out of town, an easy place to cross, but a long, dangerous journey down the other side on foot. Again, after some time, arrest and deportation. Again desperation mounted until he decided give it one more try.

That third trip was successful. Tony stayed in Greece a long time, long enough to save 7,000 euro, enough to set himself up in business at home. Lonely and eager for home, he started on foot back over the border the way he’d come. But it was winter. Cold and weak from days and nights of exposure, Tony realized he would die in those mountains without help. He also knew that under Greek law a third arrest would mandate jail. Tony had reached the end of himself.

He prayed. He admitted the mess of his life, and his need for a savior. And not just a savior from the cold of the day. In his dark need, Tony threw himself on Jesus.

The rest is a blur. After he prayed, he turned to human help even though his exposed location and Albanian accent would give him away. He offered his money. A man took him in, gave him food, and got him into transport to the border post. Somehow Tony got through the checkpoints. Somehow he, and his money, made it home.

That was last year. Tony returned to Erseka a new man, grateful and transformed.

Last summer he married, and the new couple have set up a haircutting shop in Tirana. Things are going well, though they must work hard. Can’t let down for a minute. Tony sold his motorbike, and they bought the old Mercedes sedan I rode in. The school gives him some extra work driving visiting teachers like me, and the chance to do a few haircuts there.

Tony is involved in the church in Tirana, but there is pain around that. He tells me that his wife is Muslim—a heritage he shares. She came to church, but found it terrifying. All of which led me to ask how his marriage came about.

“My father cuts the grapes,” Tony tells me. His dad is a vinedresser, and one day he was hired by a man in Korçe. “This man liked my father very much, and they began to talk. The man told my father that he had a son and could not find a wife for him, and asked for my father’s help. My father told him about me and said he would make an agreement with that man—that if he would find a wife for me, my father would find a wife for his son.” And so it was. That man had a daughter. Tony accepted her, and they were betrothed. All that was years ago. Long engagements are the norm in Albania, where it is also a serious breach of honor to break off a betrothal. Ruins the woman’s reputation, and potentially her chance to marry anyone else. And so, even as a believer, Tony felt bound to keep his promise and marry her.

Now he lives with it, loves her, and prays. During our five hours on the road, she phoned Tony six or eight times. “Where are you? When will you be home? Please, drive safely and take good care of yourself.” A new dear one for which to pray.

As Tony told me all this I marveled at God’s amazing answer to the prayer of my friend Monika. Tony is her brother. I remember how two years ago her talk was consumed with concern for him, with anxious longing for him to know Jesus and to find his way. I remember praying with her for him. As Tony dropped me at the airport I felt I’d been treated with a window into heaven.

Airport waits and two flights later I was the last to leave the international terminal at Antalya. “Lord,” I prayed as I waited for my bag, “let it be Ramazan driving tonight. I like him. He’s a good driver, and he’s easy to be with. You know I’m tired and sick. Don’t think I can face a stranger.”

Alas, no Ramazan. In fact, no driver at all. I looked. I waited. I wandered. I hunted through my phone, files and computer for a phone number, but came up blank. It got later—9:30 pm in front of an empty terminal alone, and I don’t speak Turkish. “Take a taxi to the bus station? But will there be a bus to Kaş at this time of night?”

Finally I approached the taxi rank. “How much will this cost me? Will anyone even be willing to start for Kaş at 10pm?” We haggled in broken phrases, agreed on a price and a currency, and then he asked me to wait five minutes. Another taxi pulled up and this very young man hopped out to load my bag. “Is he even old enough to drive?” I wondered.

We set out. Very fast, then hard on the brakes, then crazy fast again. He was taking and receiving phone calls. Then, in halting words, he asked if his mother could come with us. “Sure!” It’s not the first time the car we’ve hired carries family and friends of the driver in the back. He pulled off into a neighborhood and stopped before an apartment block. A woman in peasant garb and headscarf came out, followed by a girl of about 12. Mom and sister climbed into the back seat. “Esalaam alaykum!” Mom clapped me on the shoulder with affection. I was surprised by the religious greeting, rather than the common “merhaba!” “Alaykum esalaam,” I replied. She pressed almonds into my hand, still warm from the roaster, and chattered away to her son as we careened down the road.

They didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Turkish. We chatted some with hands waving—enough for me to learn that she had always lived in Antalya, these were her only children, and that she had cancer. I understood enough of their Turkish to realize that she had never before been to Kaş and this was a huge treat for her from her son, whose love for her was apparent. It was pitch dark, a stormy, wet night. As we drove, he told her what towns and villages were coming up, and pointed out the window at passing scenes, describing in detail the beauty of the (invisible) view. She oohed and ahhed in amazement as the young man talked.

It was the fastest trip I ever made to Kaş. A combination of breakneck speed and delightful company. As I grabbed my bags and paid the fare in the middle of a dead winter night, I wondered whether they would drive around to see the town, wait until daylight, or head straight back. I even thought about inviting them to stay with me though my sick bowels and the unknown order and food-less state of the apartment checked me.

Don’t you love it when God takes people we see simply as the means from point A to point B and wakes us up to His image and glory in them?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Here's to You, King Jesus!

Sunday evening. Arrived in Kaş late last night. Alone.

So far as I know, I am the only believer in town. We have an agreement, the four of us God has drawn to Kaş. Whenever any of us are present on Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s table.

I feel a tad awkward. I have the wine, and some bread to break. But it is strange to think of celebrating all by myself.

A medley of Christmas music plays in the background. Candles glow and reflect the colors and fabrics of my quiet space. The lights of Kaş twinkle in the night breeze beyond the window.

Handel’s Hallelujah chorus penetrates my reading. All of a sudden I know it is time. I pour the wine and lay the bread, then begin the music again.

“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

I stand—I can’t help myself!

“The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ! And of His Christ!”

I break the bread.

“And He shall reign forever and ever. Forever! And ever!”

In this land of 3,000 friends of Jesus amid 75million who don’t know Him, I raise my glass. No awkwardness. Not alone. I am filled with joy, hope, and praise.

Şerefe! Here’s to You, King Jesus!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Foretastes of heaven

Dublin. A perfect Irish day, sunny-cloudy after days of heavy rain. Fall leaves add radiance to the green. I’m out at sunrise, the horizon tinged pink over the sea. A brisk 30 minutes brings me to a coffee shop where I peruse the Times and sip my coffee. Then a ramble. I visit a shop to gather my vegetable lunch and then set my pace on the hidden paths of St Anne’s Park. Huge old trees. Ivy. Rose gardens. An old-growth streamside meander complete with tumble-down Victorian follies and ancient walls. The footing is thick, wet leaves, and the sun glints through to set the fall colors on fire. The air is cool but not crisp with the slightest breeze.

Seventeen men and women gather in our flat for a day of listening prayer. I look at them and realize we come from 13 nations on six continents. Another evening I notice that the eight gathered at our dining table represent seven nations and, again, six continents. Fragrant incense rising to the throne of God.

The four of us God has drawn to Kas gather on the third floor balcony of the villa dedicated-and-in-waiting. As dusk approaches, a rainbow arches down to the sea before us. As night falls a cloud pauses over the sea for an hour and lightning flash within it, contained and never going to ground. The breeze cools me and carries scents of eucalyptus and jasmine. The silence is perfect as we pass the bread and wine.

Though she is in breakdown, in crisis, this woman who has asked to talk wants to see Jesus in her frightening place. I am confident she will, and that she will find both healing and new growth.

I sit on the sofa with Curt at the end of the day. We put our feet up, watch TV and hold hands.

Cait comes tearing out of the kitchen with Eda chasing her. Cait slips and nearly falls. Dan cheers, and all fall into gales of laughter, rejoicing to be so loved and in love, to be together.

Several are gathered for a day of quiet and prayer. From my corner in the dining room I am drawn out of myself to intercession. My “job” seems simply to hold certain ones in God’s presence. Curt, who sits with God in another room. Jennifer, who dwells with us for a season. Curt says later, with quiet joy, “It was a good day.” And as I “hold” Jenn, a sweet fragrance fills my senses and remains.

The air is dry, cooled by the evening breeze. That hamburger fresh off the grill was a wonder. I marvel to find the dune where I lie cool. How can it be like that when the sun shines hot all day? I don’t see a single constellation I recognize, and I wonder when the moon will rise and what phase it is in. I could easily doze off right here. But Pawan is about and lonely. He finds me and speaks of his childhood when his grandfather would show him the stars and tell him that he would become a star one day. “Why did he tell me that, Madame?” I wish my brother Pawan could find the freedom to call me “Jeri.” Tonight I see that this adventure in the desert has left him raw with homesickness for Nepal. What a privilege to serve as mother for this young man who courageously makes his way so far from home.

Miriam and I share lunch in Port Townsend—right on the water of the Puget Sound-- and wax whimsical about what God might do with the old bank building we just looked at, the one Curt and I want to buy. A seagull drops his load, which kindly misses us—and our food—and lands on the chair next to Miriam. We laugh; we marvel.

I see the plate of fresh cookies. The smell of baking permeates the house. I look, but feel no compulsion to eat. Detached. Free in my inner being. I walk away.