Great Memories Can Help Sustain Us
My favorite time during the day in Albania has always been evening and night time. I am typically there in the heat of the summer, and the strain of meeting the villagers, setting up either a film showing or a dental clinic, and getting from one village to the next many times by walking has always made me look forward to the end of the day. Some of my fondest memories are times when I was sitting out under the stars with my team mates.
In 1998, I was on a Jesus Film team with Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as CRU, in the central hills of Albania. This was the same year I was in Albania at the time the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, which I wrote about in a previous post, Protection/Albania. The year before, in 1997, Albania had suffered through a civil war after a pyramid scheme collapsed and 80% of the population lost nearly everything that they had. At that time a very large number of weapons ended up in the hands of the civilian population, and it was not uncommon to see people walking around with AK-47’s draped over their shoulders.
As we would be showing the film in a different village every night, our team often sat on the equipment boxes and gazed up at the stars in absolute awe of their beauty. That year, however, every night there could be heard the cak-cak-cak sound of the AK-47’s being shot off in neighboring villages, and surrounding hillsides. It was usually easy to locate the source by watching the streak of tracer bullets arching into night sky. Our Albanian team mates, Besi, Ari, and Lindita, would try to make Dennis and Terri, and me feel better by calmly commenting that the automatic weapons were being shot off at weddings near by. Of course we knew that no weddings were being conducting out in the middle of those hills, but I think the thought of the possibility of a wedding had a comforting effect on our Albanian friends as well. It is unfortunate that people actually were killed in those days by random bullets falling out of the sky. What goes up must come down, as the saying goes. But it did become a standing joke for us, that whenever we heard the shots and saw the tracer bullets we would nudge whoever was standing close, and knowingly exclaim with a nod of our chins in the general direction, “Wedding.”
The evening is also when the shepherds and children tending the cattle would bring their animals in for the night. The farmers were coming in from the fields, and everyone would be ready to kick back and enjoy the coolness after the sunset. It was at these times that I sat with the villagers and we would just talk. We talked about our families, and what life was like in America and Albania. Sometimes we would talk about what I believed, and sometimes we would talk about what they believed. They would tell me of their religion, or superstitions, or local legends, myths, and old wives-tales. From these times I gleaned a great deal of information that I used to help me write my novel, Vale of Shadows, which is a suspense thriller with a supernatural twist set in the Balkans. You can check out the hyperlink at the top of the page.
Evening was also a time of singing and dancing. Many of the Albanian villages I have been to sang and danced as families, but I actually was privileged to take part in a sing and dance in a Gypsy community after I had closed up the dental clinic for the night. I went out and sat on a bench with a young Roma that had been helping me in the clinic. The moon was brilliantly full, the spring night air was soothing, and before long the clan brought out their instruments and played and danced. I never really got the hang of it, but I had fun trying. I don’t know how many other gadjos—non-Gypsies—have ever gotten the chance to experience that kind of fun, but it is an amazing memory.
One of my favorite memories comes from the summer of 1998. I was sharing the projector box as a seat with Besi during the film showing in one village. She was originally from Peshkopi, a town in the northeastern mountains, and she looked up at the star constellations and said that each of the stars of the Big Dipper represented a member of her family. Besi was seventeen at the time, and like the rest of us maybe a little home sick. She said whenever she looked at those stars it reminder her to pray for her family back home. It was, and still is a beautiful idea. That night I chose the North Star to represent my wife Karen, and I chose the five stars of Cassiopeia to represent my five children. On every mission trip I have been on since that time I have always looked for the North Star and Cassiopeia to remind me to pray for my family back home. I later that night before the film was over pointed out a star in the Big Dipper, which is also clearly seen from my hometown, and told Besi that whenever I saw that star in the night sky I would remember to pray for her, and her family. Over the years different stars have been assigned to other mission partners of mine, so that when I see those stars I am reminded to pray for my friends around the world. To this day I will often be out running at night and I will look up and see these stars and think of my friends who live in so many different time zones. I will wonder how their day has gone, and how their families are doing, and I will pray that all is going well for them. It is a pleasant reminder of the good times we had together.
And now To my dear friend Besiana who lost her most influential star this week—the other night was clear and bright in my hometown. I went outside and found your star in the Big Dipper, and prayed a prayer for strength and encouragement for you and your family. I pray that the wonderful memories you have of your dad will ease your sorrow today. I pulled out his book of poems that he gave me. Another fond memory. I am grateful that I got to know him. With a grateful heart for your friendship over the years, Të dua shumë, motra ime e vogel.
May God Bless you all until next time!