About Rob Dakin

I am a dentist in Wichita, Kansas and have been on many missions to remote villages in Albania, set up clinics for earthquake relief in Turkey, set up clinics in villages and orphanages in Kazakhstan and Liberia, and in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. I have been married to Karen for over 35 years and we have five children and four grandchildren. I have written a novel, Vale of Shadows, which is a suspense thriller with a supernatural twist taken from my many hours sitting on the floor in remote villages of Albania learning about their culture, beliefs, superstitions, myths, and old wives tales. Vale of Shadows is available at Amazon.com and bn.com. Check out its Website at www.robdakin.com.

Village Life – Part Katër


The remoteness of this village in the Balkan Alps of Northern Albania, along with many other like villages, always astonished me. We flew from the river port town of Fierza by helicopter to this village and it took only a few minutes. We traversed the high mountain peaks, the winding ravines and canyons, and the high mountain meadows in the luxury of the Swiss Helimission helicopter, but for the villagers, they were confined by this treacherous geography. For them to venture beyond the territory of their valley it took a great deal of planning and stamina. I have shared in previous posts how difficult it is for them to get basic goods. A four day walk to a highway where they may or may not be able to hitch hike to the nearest town like Fierza. Then a hitch hike back to their trail head—sheep trail—and another four day walk back up into the mountains. I met many people in the mountains that had never traveled beyond the valleys on either side of their valley. They were born, lived, and died all within an area of few square miles

As I said before, the villagers grow just about everything they need to survive, including tobacco. I am not suggesting that tobacco is an essential of life, but if you have ever traveled into Eastern Europe, you will note that smoking is a common pastime. I met a man in that village that had only two teeth left in his mouth. They were an upper right canine, and a lower right canine, opposing each other, and edges were worn flat. The man told me he never wanted to loose those two teeth because they were what he clinched his cigarettes with. Oh, well, the point is that things that they couldn’t grow, or make for themselves went on the shopping list, and someone in the village would make the trek every once in a while and haul it back in a back pack.

Ok, now to continue with the description story. As it got closer to the time we had told the villagers to meet us up at the school yard to show the film, we headed back to Gjergji’s house to get our equipment. Each team had about 250 pounds worth of film equipment. A long, heavy duty duffle bag contained all of the screen poles, stakes, ropes, and fuel for the generator. Another box contained the 16mm projector. A smaller box contained four  16 mm reels of the Jesus Film, but the heaviest of all was an 800 watt, benzine fueled generator. At first I was very protective of the generator as the perceived possibility of it getting legs and disappearing into the night was pretty high in an area of the world that had no electricity. So I took it upon myself to carry that eighty pound hunk of metal where ever we needed to go, waving off any offer from one of the young Albanian men to carry it. I actually only waved off the offers for the first two times I carried it before deciding that it was better for the young men, who clearly wanted a chance to impress us with their strength, to carry it. Over the years after that on other projects there were always young men in the village eager to demonstrate their prowess without complaint.

This explanation of the equipment leads me to the story of one of the very first times I had seen God answer prayer before I had even finished the prayer. In the evening of that day we carried the equipment from Gjergji’s house about a mile to the promontory in the middle of the valley on which sat the school and the old church building I described in previous posts. Our team carried the equipment along the treacherous narrow path with the stone wall on one side and the steep drop on the other. We crossed the rickety bridge that had gapping holes where planks had broken, a picture of which you can see in the post Village Life – Part Dy, and then skirted the corn field on a path   that followed the stream until we reached the promontory and climbed its steep, and uneven grade.

That night the entire village turned out to see the Jesus Film. It was a big deal. None of them had ever experienced anything like this before. We showed the film on the wall of the church building, and then gave people a chance to ask questions, and we gave New Testaments to anyone that wanted one afterward. As it turned out everyone wanted a New Testament. After fifty years of Communism, and a government that declared them an atheist state it was not too surprising that they wanted to learn as much about God as they could. The Bible tells us in the book of Revelation that God created us to worship Him. It is part of our most basic makeup, and if we choose not to worship Him, or are forced not to, it creates in us a void that we will try to fill with anything else that we can. So these people were starving from a spiritual hunger that had lasted for decades. After seeing the film many of the people of the village believed the good news about Jesus and they put their faith in Him, including the mayor, Gjergji.

By the time we finished packing all of the equipment it was after eleven o’clock at night. There was no moon, and with the steepness of the surrounding mountains there was not even ambient light along the horizon. In fact it was pitch dark after we turned off the generator. Unfortunately the night before we had loaned all of our flashlights out and so we had no light to illuminate our way along the treacherous path back to Gjergji’s home. I learned a lot that first year. On every project, no matter where it is, I always have several Mag Lights, and extra batteries packed as part of my kit, but this year I and my team found ourselves in utter darkness. As team leader I was concerned about trying to carry all of the equipment the mile back to the house. We contemplated leaving it on the hill until morning, but that didn’t seem like a good idea either. I walked to the edge of the promontory where the uneven path began its descent, and realized that without light it would be very dangerous. A fall could easily result in a broken body part or worse with no hope of getting medical help.

We realized that we should pray for God’s provision, and wisdom, and so our team stood in a circle joining hands. Gjergji and a couple of the others from the village joined our circle, and the thought crossed my mind that this would be a good opportunity for Gjergji to get his first experience in talking to God through prayer. He knew the dangers better than we did, and he was in agreement that it was not good to try and carry the equipment back to his house in the dark, or leave it until morning. We bowed our heads, and our Albanian team mates began praying in Albanian so that Gjergji would understand what we were asking God for.

We had no sooner started than Gjergji became very animated and broke from the circle shouting and pointing to the far side of the valley. There, high on the ridge of the mountain to the west was a tiny pinpoint of light. As we stared in that direction we could see that the pinpoint of light was moving, and following the serpentine path of a sheep trail. Gjergji exclaimed, “It must be my cousin bringing back the lantern he borrowed two months ago.” He went on to explain that his cousin lived in a valley on the other side of the mountain, and that it was a four hour walk from his village to Gjergji’s village. As we stood there the light grew larger and larger and before too long Gjergji’s cousin had arrived at the promontory. The cousin said he didn’t know why he decided to bring back the lantern, but he had a sense that Gjergji needed it. Of course the question was, why did he decide to come this day in the middle of the night. He could only shrug. The lantern was battery operated, and illuminated an area about ten feet in diameter. With the light shed by that lantern we were able to safely climb down the promontory, cross the bridge, and make our way along the narrow path to Gjergji’s house.

It was a good lesson for all of us on how God answers prayer. He knew we needed that light long before we did, and he set Gjergji’s cousin on his way hours before so that he would arrive right when we needed it—in the middle of the night. This event not only strengthened Gjergji’s faith, but also my own. I have never doubted since that night that God knows what I need before I ask.

I hope you have enjoyed these four description stories about a day in the life of an Albanian village. God Bless you until next time!

Village Life – Part Tre


Our hosts name is Gjërgji, and he is the First Man of the village, also known as the mayor. We made it back to his house just as the rain started again. He lead us into his living room, and once again motioned for me to sit next to the fireplace on a sheep skin rug with my back to the wall. Overlaying the rough, wood planked floor was a tattered Oriental style carpet. The walls were slurried, white washed stone. The only decorations were a single sconce full of faded plastic flowers hung high and haphazardly on the wall opposite the windows, and an outdated 1975 wall calendar with a Chinese ink drawing and calligraphy, which had been proudly displayed for nineteen years next to the door. The windows were shut and covered with intricate lace curtains.

The room was stuffy and musty, and I secretly wished Gjërgi would open the windows to allow the cool breeze from the rain to flow through, but this was something that I learned later was almost never done because of fear of catching cold. In a village this high up in the mountains, and so removed from the rest of the world and medicine, a common cold could lead to pneumonia, and death. I, therefore, waited with eager anticipation for the moment when my sweat would actually start to cool me.

Gjërgi’s wife showed herself for the first time when she entered the room and rolled the short round table that had been leaning up against the wall to the center of the room. She did not greet the men on our team, but made quick, inquisitive eye contact with the women. She left without a word, but soon returned carrying a wedge of dense corn bread in one hand, and a bowl of honey in the other, placing them on the round table called a sofra, which stood about twelve inches off the floor. She then laid out spoons enough for everyone placing the spoon ladle upside down over the edge of the honey bowl with the handles resting against the table top.

The honey was fresh, and had small pieces of the wax comb still in it. We all scooted around the table sitting “Indian” style. The Albanians clearly had more flexibility than I did, and I was amazed how close they could squish under the lip of the sofra. I followed the lead of the other Albanians and ladled out a spoonful of honey and quickly moved it to my mouth trying not to drip as I bent forward over my cumbersome knees. This was my first time in Albania, but it set the stage for many jokes at my expense for many years to come, that being, if you wanted to know what I had eaten in the villages just look at the cuff of my trousers. I had never eaten honey just by itself like that before, but I truly enjoyed it. I thought to myself, “This is a carious lesion just looking for a place to happen.” In dental language that means I wasn’t surprised to see so much tooth decay in the villagers dentition. The corn bread was very dense, and dry, but it was a welcomed adjunct to the pure sweetness of the honey.

We talked for quite a while as it continued to rain. The light in the room went through various phases as the sun periodically peeked from behind the rain clouds before going back behind them. Gjërgi’s wife—I never knew her name, and it seemed inappropriate for me to ask—cleared the table and rolled the sofra back up against the wall. The custom now was to rest in the afternoon, and then begin work again in the cooler evening. Over the years as I continued to go back to this part of the world I began to really appreciate these siestas,  but not so much that I have incorporated them into my daily routine at home. The girls on our team were lead out of the room by Gjërgi’s wife, and taken to the bedroom so they could rest on the couples mattress. Gjërgi left the men to rest on the sheep skin rugs as he went out into the village to take care of “mayor” duties. I used this time to write in my journal, but the rain clouds cast slumber-inducing shadows into the room, and before I knew it I was waking up from a mouth drooling nap of unknown duration.

As I have explained in previous posts many of my mission trips have been to set up dental clinics in remote parts of the world, but my very first mission endeavors were being part of Jesus Film teams in Albania as a volunteer with Campus Crusade for Christ. In this village I was part of a Jesus film team. After our siesta our team left Gjërgi’s house and walked through the village meeting people in their homes, or along the pathways, or in the fields. We invited them to come to the school yard on the promontory in the middle of the valley as the sun was going done. I could have said to meet at 8:30 pm, but as I was the only one with a watch the position of the sun was the method of necessity in determining time.

Along with meeting many of the villagers as they were going back out into their fields, we were invited into several homes for coffee. I had never been a coffee drinker, per se, but the coffee I was served in every home quickly pulled me towards the precipice of caffeine addiction. Turkish coffee has no resemblance to the watered down version we drink in America. I literally chewed the thick coffee paste that was barely on the verge of being liquid. To make a long story short, that day I had a total of seven demitasses of Turkish coffee—I didn’t sleep that night!

I found that August is a great month to be in the villages of Albania. The fruit trees are baring, and most importantly the vines are bulging with plump, sweet, juicy grapes. As I mentioned before, most homes had a meshwork of grape vines strung around their front porches and courtyards. It made it very handy to pluck a handful of grapes and pop them into our mouths with the approving nods of our hosts. The pathways would be equally adorned with high borders of mulberry bushes thick with fruit. So many trails were lined with these bushes that the Albanians joked with us that this was Albanian “fast-food.” Over the years I had a lot of Albanian “fast-food” as we trekked between villages. Later, in the years that I was in the central and southern part of the country, I found that August was also a great month for figs. I have to admit my only experience with figs in the past had been freeze dried in packages, so when my team mates or a villager would hand me this plumb, purplish fruit right off the tree, and pantomime that I should split it open with my thumbs, and eat sweet fruit straight off the rind it was a new and pleasant experience that made me want to make sure I always traveled to Albania in August. There were times when I had to go in July, but I always consciously missed having fresh grapes and figs.

Next time I will finish this description with a story about an amazing provision for our team when there appeared to be no hope. God Bless You until next time.

Village Life – Part Dy


My host described how he had family caught across the border in Serbia. What he meant by that was, when boundary lines were redrawn after World War II parts of Northern Albania were now in Yugoslavia, and his family were no longer on Albanian soil. He wanted to know if I would come and fight along side other Albanians to free them. This was four years before the conflict escalated to war between Kosovaars—ethnic Albanians—and Serbians in the former Yugoslavia. I had been told that to an Albanian, Yes was Yes and No was No, and there was no maybe, so I said flatly, “No, I will not come and fight.” This seemed to satisfy him, so the conversation turned amicably to matters more family oriented. I was a little nervous at first, but he respected the fact that I didn’t vacillate on my answer, so there was no problem. I began to really appreciate Albanians straight forward approach to dealing with issues that concerned them.

After the strong Turkish coffee our host walked us through the village to the area where we would be setting up our equipment. It was cloudy, and the smell of rain was heavy in the air, but the odor of the farm village still over powered it. Houses were built of stone, usually whitewashed, and each had a courtyard similar to our hosts. This village is very remote, high up along the slopes of the Balkan Alps, so virtually everything that the people live on throughout the year is grown in these courtyards and fields. Vines were heavy with grapes, and as our host noticed my interest in them, he assured us that we would have grapes to eat that night.

We made our way carefully along a narrow path bordered on one side by a stone wall, and on the other side a drop of about ten feet into a ravine below. Part of the path was occasionally washed out, which made it necessary for us to hop to the next section. Our choice was to either scrape our elbows against the course, protruding stones of the wall or plummet into the ravine. I thought about how dangerous it would be to take this path after dark, but then I realized the people of the village do just that every night, so I decided not to make a big deal about it. We wound our way down a serpentine path cut in zigzags down the slope until we reached the dilapidated bridge I had seen from the air. It spanned across the river, which at this time of year was flowing as a shallow stream. The wooden trellises were rough and weather worn, topped sporadically with cross pieces that mimicked the sparsely toothed grins of the people in this village.

As we set out across the bridge I peered into the stream below through the gaps in the planks, and once again thought of the treachery in trying to traverse this way at night. Fields of ripening corn lined the trail as we entered the center of the valley. We made our way to a high promontory that jutted up like a fortress in the middle of the valley with high peaks swooping up the other side. Perched atop the promontory was a long, red brick school house, and an old stone church that dated back well before the days of the communist. The windows of the school had been broken out by rock throwing children. Glass strewn the yard where kids were playing fotbol in their bare feet oblivious and unconcerned and seemingly immune to the danger it presented.

A loud clap of thunder jarred the mountain rims and echoed through the valley with a percussive rumble. Within moments the rain, which had been anticipated since flying into the Balkan Alps by helicopter, now began a frenzied down pour. We scampered the last few yards into the church, but not before getting drenched. Our clothes clung to us like they had been painted on despite our hurried dive into the church building. The temperature suddenly dropped as wind blew off the mountains that rimmed the valley causing us to shiver, and fight back the clatter of teeth.

The interior of the building was painted a pale green, which gave off an eerie glow in the shadows of the storm. There was no furniture, and the interior had the appearance of being little used. Our host explained that before Communism his village had been Catholic, but most of the people were still atheists because that was how they had been raised for the last fifty years. Albania had been under Ottoman rule for five hundred years. The Ottomans occupied the central swath of Albania dividing the country into three religious groups— Catholic in the north, Muslim in the center, and Orthodox in the south. But under Communism all religions were banned.

There was nothing to do, but wait out the storm. The children who had been playing in the school yard charged into the church out of the rain, dripping wet and giggling. Their voices bounced off the emptiness of the concrete covered stone walls adding to the cacophony of the rain beating against the tiled roof, the wind howling through the valley, and the thunder that we could actually feel in our legs.

The children were curious to see strangers in their village, but it didn’t take long for them to get us included into their game of Bletë or Bee. I was instructed to stand in the center of the room with my arms crossed, and one hand open, palm out against my ear with my eyes closed. The others would then buzz like bees and poke my palm like a stinger and I was to guess who did it. As games go, I could take it or leave it, but it seemed to bring them a great deal of pleasure particularly when I guessed wrong. Like I said in my previous post this village had no electricity and no running water, so simple pleasures like playing Bletë with an American during a rain storm would be talked about for some time to come.

The rain finally stopped and we stepped out from under the dripping eave of the roof, and breathed in deeply the amazingly rain freshened mountain air. The clouds still hung heavy over the mountains with the promise of more rain to come, but for now we had a narrow window of opportunity to pick our way through the puddles back to our host’s home. An old man leaning on a gnarly staff greeted us as he led his sheep along the edge of the shallow river. He and his sheep had not bothered to dash out of the rain. A lifetime of such conditions had caused him to grow accustomed to it.

I walked along the path, my mind wandered as I surveyed the mountains and valley around me. The simplicity of these people’s lives astounded me. Children without computer games making up their own entertainment. Shepherds caring for their sheep despite harsh conditions. Farmers faithfully tending their fields knowing that the survival of their village depends on a good crop . All of them seemingly with an amazing contentment. They were poor by most standards, and yet over and over I heard them say that they were the richest people in the world. After watching them, and learning from them, I honestly began to believe it.

I will continue with this story next time. Until then God Bless You!

Village Life

Northern Albania

Hey, I know it has been a while since I wrote a story. My daughter got married. I don’t really need to say anymore, except we had a great time with family and friends on the beach in Mexico, but now I’m back, and ready to give you another description story. This story will be a description of a remote village in the northern mountains of Albania. It is probably safe to say that not many people from outside of Albania have had the opportunity to experience or observe this life style. So here goes.

Since there was no co-pilot on this flight, I sat in the front seat of the helicopter next to the pilot. I stared down between my feet through the canopy at the steep ravines and terraced mountain sides as we passed over small villages perched precariously on the slopes. The pilot threaded his craft through a canyon with steep cliffs on either side. Dark, deep blue clouds provided the backdrop for the white, cottony, orographic clouds—I actually looked up the word orographic… it’s fun to learn new words—that hung heavily, obscuring the high peaks, promising a storm to come.

The Balkan Alps are rugged, and very much like the Rocky Mountains that I am used to. River beds that run wild with water during spring snow melt, now in August, cut through the ravines as streams lined with broad beaches of river rock. Villages occasionally dot the mountain slopes. From the air it takes little time to connect them, but on foot no doubt it would take the good part of a day or more. I am suddenly struck by the fact that there are no roads. Narrow trails cut along the terrain by centuries of sheep and goat traffic vein out from the villages into the vast, sparsely inhabited wilderness.

We clear a ridge and drop quickly into a valley rimmed by tall peaks on every side. My stomach hops into my throat, and I wonder if I only thought of crying out in surprise, or if I actually did cry out. I give a side-long glance at the pilot who has the faintest turn of his lips in an amused smile—I did cry out.

We pass low over a village looking for a safe place to land. A river cuts through terraced corn fields outlined by trees. Over the river is an old wooden foot bridge that even from the air looks ancient. Stone houses with terra cotta tile roofs rise from patches of level ground that pock the narrow valley of undulating foot hills. As we approach lower we can see curious villagers emptying from the stone houses and fields finding pathways to parallel our traverse. The pilot finds an open meadow just on the outskirts of the village. He lands the helicopter with the tail rotor jutting out over a deep gully formed by an out cropping of rock—careful to insure that no one can accidentally walk into the blades.

For safety sake our team has been drilled to take less than two minutes to off-load ourselves and all of our equipment. Within a minute the helicopter is rising back into the sky, and we are left completely surrounded and pressed in on by surprised, and confused, but seemingly friendly Albanians. My first thought as I look to my two Albanian team mates is, “What have I gotten myself into?” For the first time in my life, I feel truly alone. Thousands of miles from home with team mates that I had met only hours before, I feel vulnerable. This is where I have to trust God that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing.

Time has had little effect on this very remote village perched high in the Balkan Alps. There is no electricity. No running water. No roads, and almost no contact with the outside world.   The people live in the same stone houses that their ancestors built literally hundreds of years ago. All that is different is the occasional new mud packed, tree branch constructed roofs over-tiled with terra cotta, and more recent rough cut wooden plank floors that have been replaced as needed. The approach to each house is shaded by grapevines bulging with ripening fruit hanging from trellises stretched over courtyards planted with other fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers. A mangy white furred dog is stretched out on its side at the base of the porch stairs, too lazy or indifferent to realize that a chicken has just scampered across its haunches on its mad scurry from the porch to the back of the house.

To the side of the house is a conical shaped stack of hay piled around a central pole. A neckless of stones bound together by a handmade wire mesh encircles the pinnacle of the cone—its weight forcing the hay lower done the pole as the animals eat from the bottom. The buzz of a billion flies—OK, maybe only a million—fills the air as they swarm and flit from rotting fruit carcasses strewn along the ground, and piles of dung deposited by sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, donkeys, small Albanian horses, cows, and humans. A rain barrel stands sentinel to the side of the front porch steps with a skim of gnats and flies buoyant on the surface of the water.

A breeze gently flaps the lace curtain tacked over the opening of the front door. The door is very short by American standards and I have to duck through after removing my shoes and leaving them on the front porch with everyone else’s. The door is made of rough planks painted dark green, and stands ajar, wedged between the floor and the jam. I am led by my host through another door to the right. It too, I must duck through. There is no furniture in the room save for an unfinished round wooden table propped up against one of the walls. My host, a seemingly old weathered man who may really only be in his fifties, cordially bids me to sit on a sheep skin rug next to the fireplace which is also used as a kitchen. This is a place of honor, and my host sits next to me hip to hip and takes my hand in his looking earnestly for a sign from me that I am comfortable in his home, and that I am enjoying his hospitality. I begin to realize that the personal space that I am used to in America is not going to be observed here in Albania. Touching and closeness are simply expressions of acceptance, and having felt so alone just moments before, I begin to appreciate the old man’s gesture.

The room darkens as the heavy rain clouds finally crest the summit of the mountain that is this man’s backyard. We sit and talk in the shadows as my Albanian team mate conveys the language between us. Soon the man’s wife appears carrying a tray with a bowl of Turkish Delight and demitasses of Turkish coffee for everyone sitting along the wall on sheep skin rugs. The coffee is so thick it must be chewed rather than sipped. A heavy sludge of coffee grounds coats my teeth with every lift of the small cup to my lips.  I am told that the village rarely gets visitors, let alone foreigners. I am the first American they have ever seen. I am suddenly overwhelmed by a deep sense of obligation. The loneliness has vanished, and I have an unmistakable feeling of purpose. I am in this country, in this village, and in this man’s home for a reason.

Next week I will continue the story. God Bless You until next time!

“Don’t Help Us. Hope Us.”

Liberian village

For the next few stories I am going to describe various scenes in different parts of the world that I have done my dental missions in. It will be an opportunity for you to close your eyes and visualize the scene, and hopefully I will be able to describe it to you in such a way that you feel like you are there. Of course if you really do close your eyes you won’t be able to read the story, so just pretend, and let yourself be pulled into the scene.

The first description story will be a village in Liberia. Liberia is situated on the far western coast of Africa just under what looks like a big bulge pushing into the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Sierra Leone on the west, Guinea on the north, and Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) on the east, with the Atlantic ocean on the south. The country was originally established in 1847, when aided by the United States, freed slaves formed the Republic of Liberia. The capitol is Monrovia, named after the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe.   This created an elite class of citizens, which would eventually contribute to the years of civil war that ravaged that country. Liberia is rich in gold, diamonds, oil, rubber, and lumber, however, a high percentage of these resources are predominantly owned by foreign interests.

Plush, green jungle encroaches on man’s attempt to hack out an existence for himself—a never ending, arduous struggle. The road—a ribbon of reddish-brown dirt—cuts through the village, and then disappears into the dense canopy of forest on the other side. White-washed cinder block houses with corrugated tin roofs emerge sporadically from the green carpet of grass and tuffs of bushes. Humidity hazes the horizon above the trees. Towering columns of thunderheads stand as harbingers of the daily drenching to come. It is mid-  morning and already one hundred degrees Fahrenheit with a percent humidity nearly to match. Most of the people who live in the village are indoors or under the shade of large leafed trees. There is no wind. There is no breeze. Only a stifling, debilitating heaviness that hangs like weights in sweat drenched clothes.

A few children, and young adults make their way to our van as we begin to unload our equipment to set up a clinic in the nearby church. Our team quickly enters the building, and as I enter I am greeted by a man with one of his arms missing just above the elbow—a victim of a short sleeve amputation during the civil war. I learned later that this was a common practice modified in some instances to a long sleeve amputation—one at the wrist. There are various reasons for these types of mutilations—tribal, religious, government verses rebel—but the truth is, man has never really needed to work to hard to come up with excuses for inflicting cruelty on another human being. Many of the children that surround us have been orphaned by the war, raised by relatives—these are the lucky ones, many children without family fill orphanages across the country. This steels my resolve and belief that those of us who have the compunction to do good must do it, because those who have the compunction to do evil are working overtime, and are definitely busy carrying out their plans against their neighbors to do them harm.

The church is full of people from the village and surrounding area. They have been told we were coming, and they have been waiting for us. The windows of the church are an open ornate lattice work of concrete. The walls are pocked and chipped with bullet holes inside and out. Exposed rebar juts hazardously from larger holes. We use the podium to separate the clinic from the waiting area, with the medical team on one side of the pulpit and the dental team on the other. The pews quickly fill with people, but another long line trails out into the hot sun. This promises to be a very long day.

A woman wearing a long, green patterned dress stands at the head of the medical line with her baby slung in a matching sash across her back. The baby sleeps peacefully despite the steady din of noise from the crowd. No one seems to mind the long lines. They are just thankful that our team has come.

There is no electricity in the church. Both teams have to make due with what we have. We figure a little help is better than no help at all. For me this means pain management for the worse cases. I have been told that no dentist has ever come to this village. I didn’t really believe them until our Liberian team consistently had to describe to each villager  exactly what a dentist was. They had no idea. Slowly the stress of seeing so many people, and now the fact that I was their first contact with a member of my profession began to wear me down. I have to constantly pray for strength because no where have I ever done anything harder or more demanding. I felt overwhelmed, and inadequate, but I persevered by remembering the story of the Starfish. We had only a plastic chair for the patient to sit in, and I had them lean back on the back legs against my lap while I hovered over them from behind trying to use the  natural light coming through the window.

My first patient was an elderly man who sat down in the chair with a terrified look on his face. He pointed to a badly broken down tooth and explained that he had been in pain for months. As I placed my small mirror into his mouth he began to scream hysterically. This sudden outburst not only startled me, but our entire team. I quickly backed out of his mouth and asked if that hurt. He said it didn’t , so I asked him why he had screamed. He said he screamed because he thought he was supposed to. I said, “No, you don’t have to scream unless it hurts, and I am going to try and make sure it doesn’t hurt.” When I looked around, the group of five people who  were sitting on the podium waiting their turn had suddenly disappeared, along with every other villager who had been waiting for the dentist. I turned to see them pushing their way frantically out the back door trying to get away. I eventually convinced the elderly man to let me remove the tooth. I gave him anesthetic, and after removing the badly infected molar he exclaimed, “Oh! It didn’t hurt!” I told him to go tell his neighbors. Within a few minutes the others finally returned to their waiting positions.

Some of our difficulty came from the villagers who didn’t speak English or the several languages that our Liberian team mates spoke. There are about thirty different languages spoken in the region. I was glad we were good at charades. I finally learned that Liberian English has its own dialect. After several patients were unresponsive to, “Close you mouth a little.” I changed it to the Liberian alternative of, “Shot yo mouf,” and oddly enough that worked like a charm from then on.

Those monstrous thunderheads finally dumped a powerful rain on us in the afternoon. It didn’t get cooler, just muggier. The down pour beat heavily on the corrugated tin roof, drowning out any ability we had to communicate short of an all out yell. At one point I looked at my daughter, Aubrey, and said, “I am never going to complain about the wind in Kansas again.” Being from Kansas, we are used to heavy winds, but in the jungle there was no wind, only a heavy stillness. To this day I still have never complained no matter how gusty, and blustery the day has gotten.

None of us openly complained about the conditions in the village. We made due with what we had, and we realized that these people deal with these conditions everyday of their lives. I learned a lot about the strength of the human spirit in the face of harsh conditions, injustice, and violence from the Liberians in the villages. Their example of determination, and perseverance to not just survive, but to conquer their obstacles led them to declare to us, “Don’t help us. Hope us. Give us hope that we can get better on our own.”

May God Bless you until next time!

“Well, That Didn’t Work!”


I am in no way a master at linguistics. I have, however, always been interested in languages, and I have tried to learn a little of the language in each culture that I have been in. I have, sitting on the shelves in my library, dictionaries and/or study guides for Albanian, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Patois (Jamaican), Russian, Spanish, Swahili, and Turkish. Unfortunately none of these languages have miraculously, through some sort of cosmic transference, made the leap from the bookshelf to my brain. I have worked hard at some of those languages over the years, but so far the only point of pride that I have in regard to linguistic prowess is the claim that I can ask to find where the bathroom is in eleven different languages. But, when you stop to think about it, what more do you really need?

I have learned—usually the hard way—that certain pronunciations of words in the English language are also used in other languages, and may have completely different meanings. This may not seem like such a big deal, but sometimes the difference in meaning is offensive, obscene, or down right socially unacceptable. If you are not aware of these verbal bombs you can get yourself into trouble quicker than you can say, “Oh my gosh. I think I’ll just shut up now.” I could give you a vocabulary list of these dubious words, which  for my English speaking readers would seem totally innocuous, but for the sake of my international readers I won’t. I will just give one innocent example that happened when my wife, Karen wanted to take a picture of the mother of one of our Albanian friends while visiting in Albania. When Karen asked if she could take the mother’s picture, the elderly woman, with a horrified look on her face, asked her daughter, “What did she just say?” Hmm… we have since learned to use the word photo. We have also learned to use other synonyms  when speaking in English with the intent of having it translated.

Sometimes languages are just hard to hear. If you are not used to hearing  them it may seem like a cacophony of blah, blah, blahs, and no matter how hard you concentrate it doesn’t seem to get any clearer. We speakers of the English language have overcome that problem by simply speaking very…very…slow, and very…very…loud as if our audience is moronic, or suffering from presbycusis. Some people can hear a language and pick it up fairly quickly while others struggle. But just because you struggle doesn’t mean you should give up trying. Everyone appreciates the effort of someone trying to communicate to them in their own language.

I have mentioned a friend of mine named Charlie—see previous posts—who was a retired Boeing worker and was good with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. Charlie went with me twice to Turkey, helping me set up dental clinics during earthquake relief efforts. Charlie was the type of guy who never was afraid to jump right into a situation and try something new. We had been given laminated cards with a few Turkish phrases, currency exchange rates, numbers, and popular food items that we could carry in our pockets as a quick reference guide. Charlie never quite got the hang of the Turkish phrases,  but that didn’t stop him from striking up conversations with Turks whenever he had the chance. One time we stopped at a restaurant along side of a highway, and a group of young Turks were standing in a group talking. Charlie barged right into their circle and confidently said, “Merabella. Mentholatum.” What he meant to say was, “Merhaba. Memnun oldum,” which means, Hello. Pleased to meet you, or something like that. The young Turks first looked shocked that this old man was interrupting them, and then confused at what he had said. One of the Turks exclaimed in English, “What are you trying to say?” Unphased, Charlie just chuckled and said, “Oh good you speak English. I’m trying to say Hello, pleased to meet you,” as he held up his laminated card for the Turk to see. The young man looked over Charlie’s shoulder with an amused look on his face, and took several minutes coaching Charlie how to say the phrase.

On another trip to Turkey, Karen and I traveled with a dental school buddy and his wife named Mark and Karen. By this time I had picked up a little of the language and was able to get around enough with taxis, and ordering in restaurants that our friends that lived there didn’t have to “baby sit” us the whole time. It has always been important to me to learn a little of the language, study maps, learn some of the culture, learn how to properly exchange and use money, and how to order food so that I am not too big of a burden on the friends that live there. Mark and Karen, and Karen and I had worked for about a week in the dental clinic that Charlie and I had set up a few months before in a city about eighty miles east of Istanbul called Adapazzarι. After we finished, we spent a couple of days in Istanbul before we left to come home. One night we decided to take a ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side just to see the lights of Istanbul from the water. After coming back over to the European side we took a tram to the old city of Istanbul in Sultanahmet. Between the Haghia Sophia, which is an ancient Byzantine church that was  converted into a mosque under the Ottomans and is now a museum, and the Blue Mosque, which is an impressive structure with six minerats, there is a mall with gardens and fountains. At night the structures are accent lighted and very beautiful. Off to one side of the  mall is a tea garden canopied by awnings and vines. It was late May, and the night had a cool, but pleasant breeze, so the four of us decided to have some Turkish tea in the tea garden. Mark wanted to try to speak some Turkish to our waiter so he asked me how to say, Excuse me. Bill please. I told him what I had learned, “Affedersiniz. Hesap lütfen.” The entire time that the Karens and I sat in the tea garden talking and relaxing, Mark was practicing the phrase over and over. “Affedersiniz, hesap lütfen. Affedersiniz, hesap lütfen. Finally the moment came when we wanted to leave, and it was time to pay the bill. Mark looked around for the waiter and motioned for him to come. As the waiter approached, Mark recited his newly learned phrase with confidence. The waiter stopped short of reaching our table and turned and walked off to wait on another table across the way. Mark immediately turned back to us with a dejected look on his face as if somebody had just shot his dog and said disappointedly, “Well, that didn’t work!” We began laughing so hard we couldn’t see straight. As it turned out the waiter hadn’t seen or heard Mark because our silhouettes had been backlit by the lights of the mall. Eventually the waiter returned and Mark was able to make his request speaking in perfect Turkish.

May God Bless you until next time!

It’s Not For Everybody. Or Is It?

Sometimes I have had people look at me like I am crazy when I tell them of some of the places in the world that I have been to. I have actually had people tell me to my face that I am crazy, including some from my own family. It never hurts my feelings because I know for the most part  they are just concerned for me, and they don’t want me going into harms way. I usually just smile and if it is before I go on a trip I tell them that I am sure God is leading me, and if it is after I have returned from a trip I tell them that the fact I am standing before them is proof enough that God protected me and brought me back safely, and they shouldn’t worry. I know, however, that it is almost impossible not to worry when someone you love is in a dangerous place or situation. I have written several stories that have to do with the anxiety of my wife, and kids, and my dad, when I have traipsed off into the unknown, and I honestly never take that for granted.

But what if being sure of the calling of God to GO!, puts you in a dangerous situation. In my way of thinking it would be more dangerous not to go. God requires obedience, and He will always equip us to accomplish the tasks He sets before us. He never promised it would be safe or without cost. What He did promise is that he would never leave us or forsake us. That means when we are in a tough spot he is there to give us strength to get through it. He doesn’t say He will give us strength to avoid it, go around it, over it, or under it, but to get through it. Sometimes we never get to see the end result of our faith and efforts, but we trust that God knows what He is doing when he calls us to serve Him.

So we GO. That doesn’t mean we go without concern or a certain amount of anxiety, but we go because God told us to. It may take every bit of faith and strength we have to take that first step out the door, but we go because we trust that what we are doing has a purpose beyond ourselves. It isn’t something we can easily explain, but somewhere in our deepest core we just know it is the right thing to do. We don’t do it because we were born to do it. We do it because somewhere along the line we were instilled with a sense of duty. We see a job that needs to be done, we consider the cost but we count it as nothing compared to what will be gained, and we strive to perform the task to the best of our abilities.

Often it is extremely hard to understand this drive within us in regard to this call to duty, let it alone try to explain it to someone else. The best we can hope for is that our loved ones will try to understand, and not be too adamant with their crazy accusations. To understand the balance it is important to realize that we all have a job to do. Some are called to GO. Some are called to SEND. Some are called to PRAY. If the GOERS go, and the SENDERS send, and the PRAYERS pray, then God’s task will be accomplished for His glory.

One problem is when there is a conflict of interests and one group feels their job is more important than another’s. These feelings allow all sorts of problems to creep into one’s life including egoism, and narcissism. These problems in their very basic components are really nothing more than idolatry—we put glorifying ourselves above glorifying God. This always causes head aches, and no one ever wins. The best thing to do is realize that we are a team that functions best when everyone knows their job and does it.

Another problem that comes from outside this team, is the naysayers who will find fault with any and everything. They will accuse those trying to help others of being egoist, or narcissists, and they will say that those helping are just doing it to make themselves feel better. Well… as a matter of fact, when I have had people who have had no resources of their own come up to me and tell me that they feel better, or they are no longer hungry, or they no longer feel unloved and forgotten, or they no longer feel hopeless, I’ve got to tell you, that does make me feel better. For me success isn’t measured by the size of my house, bank account, or car I drive; it is measured by how significant I am in the lives of others. Unfortunately the naysayers haven’t figured that out yet, and if they are honest with themselves they will admit that their lives are full of disappointment and discontent. But the good news is they don’t have to stay that way unless they choose to. Anyone can join the team. We are always looking for people who overcome their fear and get outside their box to help the world be a better place.

On the subject of fear, there are those people who will condemn others for going into dangerous places as being fool hardy, irresponsible risk takers. They will try to project their own fear of getting out of the box on to someone else who is taking a step out. This isn’t helpful either. A case in point, my daughter Aubrey and her college room mate Stephanie went with me to set up dental clinics in Liberia ( see previous story Culturally Acceptable, and A Time to Go). As they were getting their Yellow Fever shots at their universities healthcare center the nurse said, “Liberia! Why would you want to go to Liberia! They rape white women there!” She then proceeded to suggest to them that they take along a “Morning After” pill in case they get raped. What??? Are you kidding me? I wanted to take a cattle prod to that nurse. Yes, Liberia had just finished fifteen years of  genocidel civil war, but by the time we got there, the Liberians, who we found to be wonderful people, were so sick of war and violence that it was probably one of the safest places in the world to be. Two of the young men who worked in one of our clinics had been boy soldiers, and they made it their mission to make sure Aubrey and Stephanie felt safe. Aubrey told me that she felt safer in Liberia than she did on her college campus.

Yes, you have to be smart. You have to consider the cost, and the risk, but you have to also realize that the world is in the state it is in because too many people take the easy way. Too many people play it safe. Too many people with abundant resources keep it for themselves or waste it. The result—people just like you and me who want to live and raise families, love and have hope, were born in a place where they live in harsh, or dangerous, or hard to get to places and suffer from hunger, lack of water, lack of health care, and lack of justice.

I heard a quote once that put this whole subject in perspective for me. “Our greatest fear should not be of failure. Our greatest fear should be of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” I never try to push others into doing the kinds of things that I do, but I do try to encourage them to do something. To do something with their talent, or their money, or their time, to help others. If we all do something, don’t you think the world would be a better place?

May God Bless you until next time!

Going Home?


The second part of my story takes place in Istanbul, Turkey. After leaving Tirana, Albania, Karen and I flew to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines. We got our 90 day visas for only twenty dollars, which was a nice surprise because last time we were in Istanbul it was forty-five dollars. It took no time again to get all of our luggage and to clear customs, and before we knew it we were outside the secure doors and looking into a crowd of people who were waiting for travelers to come through.

We didn’t immediately see our friend Melda, but Karen and I had been in these type of situations before where you are looking into a sea of faces trying to pick out one that you recognize. As we had learned in the past we split up and each went in a different direction searching through the packed elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, ten deep thick crowd. It wasn’t long before we heard above every other shout, “Karen! Rob!” We turned to see Melda hanging precariously over the rope barrier that separated those waiting from those coming, waving her arms frantically to get our attention.

Whenever I get teary eyed, or choked up in a movie it is always when two people are reuniting, almost never when two people are parting. So to say that I got a little teary eyed and choked up when Karen literally dash into Melda’s arms and the two women cried and hugged each other with tears streaming down their faces… well, I’m getting kind of teary eyed and choked up right now just writing about it. I grabbed up the suitcase that Karen dropped behind and strode over to the two women who were in a deep embrace even though the security rope was still between them. Melda looked at me over Karen’s shoulder, her cheeks drenched with tears, and said, “I can’t believe you are here.”

What is it about this kind of friendship that is still so strong despite the fact it has been years since we have seen each other? We have kept in touch through e-mails, and Facebook, but how can that be enough to explain the deep affection this friendship has created, particularly between Karen and Melda? We actually talked about this. Our initial common bond was humanitarian aid after the earthquakes devastated the region in August 1999. Karen and I first met Melda who acted as our interpreter, consultant, and guide—introducing us to the proper people to set up the clinics, and helping us in so many ways to make our attempt at relief efforts more effective. It didn’t take long for a bond to form. The three of us agreed on the answer to these questions. First, we all saw a need that we couldn’t ignore—people hurting. Second, we all had a deep sense that God wanted us to do whatever we could to help. And Third, Karen and I recognized Melda, and Melda recognized us as people who truly wanted to live our lives for God. Our beliefs are different, but there can be no mistaking that God put the three of us together for a purpose.

Well, back to the airport. After Karen and Melda finally released from each other they realized we had to get out of that area. Melda and I shook hands which is the culturally appropriate thing to do, and we headed for the airport parking garage. Melda took us to our boutique hotel in Sultanahmet, the old city of Istanbul, so we could get checked in, and then took us to a fish restaurant on the Bosphorus.

After a couple of hours of catching up on our lives over the last ten years, we went to a place Karen and I had never been to before, the Fortress of Rumeli. The fortress was built at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus in 1452, across from the Fortress of Anatolia on the Asian side. This fortress represents everything that I love about history. There are cisterns in the inner court of the fortress that were built back in the Byzantine period, and the walls and fifteen towers were built by various Ottoman Sultans. You can walk where Byzantines, and Ottomans walked over hundreds of years. You can climb the steep, narrow, treacherously unbanistered, uneven steps to the top of the wall—did I use enough adjectives?—and look out over the Bosphorus toward the Black Sea and try to imagine what it would have been like five hundred years ago. A place like this could never exist for tourism in the U.S.A.—too many safety regulations, too many people looking to blame someone else if they fall off. But the beauty is this place does exist and you can experience it first hand—just be careful and DON’T FALL OFF! So here comes my attempt at logical thought… I love history. Istanbul is full of history. I love Istanbul.

The nice thing about staying in Sultanahmet, if you like history, is that there are so many places to see. Our hotel was within easy walking distance of the Blue Mosque and the Haghia Sophia. That means we were also very close to the Hippodrome, Topkapι Palace, and the Cisterns (remember James Bond in To Russia With Love?). We walked to the tram from our hotel and got off at the Covered or Grand Bazaar. I was in Turkey six times in eighteen months during earthquake relief and in that time my one true weakness was Turkish carpets. I ended up buying six of them most of them Hereke carpets, which are hand made and typically have a minimum of three hundred knots per square inch. I bought most of them from the same dealer at different times. Hakan is a famous carpet dealer in the Grand Bazaar. His basement wall is covered with famous world leaders, and actors. He actually remembered me, even though it had been eleven years since I had seen him. He said, “Yes, you were the dentist who came and worked in Adapazarι.” Wow! It was nice to be remembered. I had originally thought of buying another carpet from him when I fortunately remembered that I have a daughter getting married in July, so I really had no business buying another carpet at that time. But man I sure saw a couple that I liked.

Melda was willing to take us anywhere we wanted to go. We told her that our number one purpose for coming through Istanbul was to see her so any time we could spend together was what was most important. We wanted to at least take a ferry across to the Asian side mainly just for the ride, which gave Karen and Melda plenty of time to talk. An interesting coincidence was that the Royal Caribbean ship Mariner of the Seas was docked in Istanbul. Karen and I had cruised that very same ship in the Caribbean a few years ago.

Although this was a very fast trip—three days in Albania and two days in Istanbul—its was so great to see friends that have been, and remained special over the years. Since those days years ago in Albania and Turkey we have had other dental missions in Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Kenya, but this trip reminded us of what we loved about the people and the culture of Albania and Turkey. It was like going home. It was like we had never left. Is that strange?

I hope you also have the opportunity, and the privilege to have deep cross-cultural friendships that will last you a life time. It really makes life more fun. It makes life worth living. May God Bless you until next time!

A Family Reunion


It is amazing to me the connection that we can have with other people when we share a common bond. It doesn’t matter that we live in different countries, or speak different languages, or have different cultures and traditions, or even in special cases that we have different beliefs. When we have a common bond none of these differences seem to matter because somewhere along the line we  come to the point of looking passed the differences—we come to the point of accepting one another—we come to the point of loving one another. Once this happens, friendships that will last a life time are made despite the geographical obstacles, and the amount of time that passes.

I am going to split my story into two parts. The first part will take place in Albania, and the second will take place in Turkey. I am going to share the terrific experiences that Karen and I had last week reconnecting with old friends after a long absence. In Albania our common bond is Jesus Christ. Karen and I went back to celebrate twenty years of Campus Crusade for Christ being in Albania right after the fall of Communism in that country. As I have explained in previous posts I was able to be part of Jesus Film summer projects in the remote villages of Albania, in which we told of the story of Jesus to anyone who was willing to listen.

The celebration took place over a weekend—yes, Karen and I flew to Albania for the weekend. I know it sounds a little crazy, but it was such a wonderful time with old friends, and a chance to make new ones, that it would have been crazy not to go. People literally came from all over the world to be there for the weekend. I hadn’t been to Albania for six years, but the bond had never been broken, so when our friend Avni picked us up at the airport it was like we had never been apart.

I need to point out the tremendous improvements that have taken place in Albania since I was last there. First, Nënë Tereza (Mother Teresa) International Airport is now a modern facility, and a vast improvement from my first experience  with the very small Rinas Airport in 1994. Our luggage was actually some of the first off the plane from Istanbul, so Avni only had to wait about twenty minutes for us to clear customs—in years past, he or someone else would have had to wait two or more hours on us. Gone is the de-planed luggage area that was once roped off just beyond passport control, in which you had to step over the rope and push and shove your way to your luggage in a type of mayhem free-for-all. Once you managed to get your luggage, you then had to drag your luggage pushing and shoving your way back across the rope, and then swim upstream through the crowds of travelers from at least two arriving airlines to get to customs. Gone are the Gypsy children crowding in on you trying to carry your bags the second you walk out the doors. Gone also, and much to our pleasant surprise, were all the official forms that had to be filled out, and the embarkation tax that we used to have to pay.

As Avni, Karen, and I were walking toward the well-paved covered parking lot, also an improvement, a voice from behind called out, “Rob…Avni.” We turned to find my Albanian dentist friend, Ardi, who I had worked with on a couple of dental missions to the Gypsies in the north, and south of Albania. I hadn’t seen Ardi in eight or nine years. The crazy, small world kinda thing was that he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and he had come to Albania the night before to visit his family. He was at the airport that night because not all of his luggage had arrived at the same time he did, and he had come back to claim it. Had we been even one minute earlier or later we would have missed each other.

Someday I am going to write a story that relates all of the small world encounters I have had over the years. But concerning this trip, Karen and I had a friend named Aija, who was visiting from Latvia, to our home the Sunday night before we left for Albania. We had her over to meet some other friends who were Albanian and Latvian who had gotten married a couple of years ago and are now living in Wichita. A few days later as we were in a bus on our way back to Tirana from the castle town of Kruja we got to talking to an American named Tom who had come from Florida for the celebration. As he was describing his job where he frequently travels to Eastern Europe, I thought of our Latvian friend who visited us because she was doing the exact same thing in Latvia. After Tom finished, I told him about our friend Aija, and of course he not only knew her, but they were also friends. Here we are on a bus in central Albania talking to a guy from Florida who is friends with our friend from Latvia. These kind of stories just amaze me.

Our weekend was filled with receptions, and tours, and updates on the projects going on in Albania, and in other parts of the world by Albanians. We also had banquets, picnics, and programs and presentations. We met with the family members of some of our Albanian friends who live in Wichita who had come to Tirana to visit us. I was pretty rusty on any of the Albanian language that I knew, and so when our friend’s family came—who spoke no English—I pulled out my i-phone, and with the i-Translate App we typed out our conversation back and forth until we had procured all of the information from each other that we possibly could. It wasn’t until later that Karen pointed out that my phone was roaming internationally during this whole session…gulp…Oh well, you can’t put a price on a good time.

Other improvements were the roads. The construction that was going on last time I was there, which used to tie up traffic in a horrendous manner, was now completed, and what used to take an hour and a half to travel now took only about ten minutes. This opened up a lot more opportunities to meet with people, whereas before we spent half the day just trying to get from one place to another.

Albania is where missions really started for me (see previous posts), and although I have been to several other places to work since those times, my heart never really left Albania. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until Karen and I got back there. The friends that we have in Albania we can truly say are life long friends. There have been times when I have met someone, and I have had the sense that I would never see them again. Strangely, I never feel that way about my Albanian friends. There is always a feeling that at sometime, and somewhere down the road we will be together again. And even if we don’t see each other on this earth we will be together in heaven, because like I said, our common bond is Jesus Christ.

May God Bless you until next time!

On My Way To Albania and Turkey

Today, Karen and I are on our way back to Albania for the weekend, and then into Turkey. We have the privilege to take part in the 20 year celebration of Campus Crusade for Christ in Albania. This is where it all began for me. It is where God captured my heart in service for Him. It is from those early relationships with Albanians and seeing how God was working in their lives that all my subsequent mission trips have sprung. It is really beyond words the gratitude I feel that God allowed me to be even a small part of such an amazing work. Our plane leaves shortly. I simply can’t wait!

We also get to visit Turkish friends that we worked along side with during earthquake relief efforts. We still have such a close bond even though the relief work took place over a decade ago. We are so thankful that God has kept those relationships vital over the years.

And for those of you who are Vale of Shadows fans—Yes, I will be taking notes for the sequel. It is coming right along.

I will have new stories when I get back. Until then, May God Bless You!