“I Had A Dream of a Man Who Came to My Village.”


I am always amazed when I see God working in the lives of people all around me. I guess I shouldn’t be because I know that God is at work at all times all around me, but it is just so cool to get to see it happening first hand. It is easy to pass events off as simply coincidence, but many times this is a cop-out, and we miss a huge blessing, not to mention we miss opportunities to go way beyond our own capabilities and circumstances and do something truly spectacular. There are just certain times when easy explanations, or quick answers can’t and shouldn’t be attempted. It is at these times I think we have the privilege to marvel at God’s intentional design—we get a glimpse of His plan to bring back to Himself people who either never knew Him, or purposefully turned their backs on Him. And when we get to see these times we can embrace His great love for us, and His grace and mercy towards us.

One of my favorite memories from my time in Albania during the AERO Projekt—see previous posts for an explanation—I was able to witness first hand how God designed a plan to reach not only one person, but nearly an entire village for Himself. My team had loaded our equipment on the back of two horses and we walked from one village to another taking about three hours to do so. When we arrived in what was supposed to be our third village of the cycle we found that the village, which was high up in the mountains, was preparing for an all-village wedding. People were very busy with the preparations, and there was an aire of excitement that seemed to emanate from everyone who greeted us as we walked into the center of the village.

As was the usual custom, I asked to meet with the mayor to introduce ourselves, and to ask him to help our team in showing the Jesus Film later that night. He said that his village would love to see the Jesus Film, but that there was a big wedding going on that night and no one would come to our film. He apologized and asked if maybe we could come back another time. I went back to my team, and told them what they had already figured out about the wedding plans, and that we would either have to go back to the base camp or find another village. None of us wanted to go back to the base camp so I called our director, Edi, and he told me of a village much higher up into the mountains that appeared to have no road to it. He said that it was a village that they were not planning on going to this year during the summer projekt because of the problem in getting there. I told him I would call him back. Our team formed a circle in the shade of a building and began to pray for God to reveal His will to us.

No sooner had we began praying, than a furgon or van pulled into the village center. I was surprised to see a furgon because there was really no road to this village. We had followed a wide trail with the horses in order to get up to the village, but the furgon had made the trek carrying goods for the wedding. I let out a yell—which is not usually done in Albania—startling my team who were praying with their heads down. They looked at me like I had lost my mind as I broke ranks and ran off after the furgon. When I caught up with van I asked the driver if he knew the village of Pagri, and he said he did, but that it was very far up into the mountains and there was no road. I looked over his beat up van and asked if he had ever been there and he said he had. I offered to pay him if he would take us to Pagri, and he consented. Our team piled into the van with our equipment and made our way to the trail head that would lead us deeper into the mountains.

The trail was at times barely wide enough for the van to squeeze through. We bumped and bounced, and jolted our way up the slope. I began to understand why the van was so beat up. When we arrived in Pagri, which was a very small, but beautifully situated village, a man came running out of his house and shook our hands vigorously, stating that he was the mayor and that they rarely had visitors, and that we were most welcome. He invited us into his home for food and volunteered to let us stay the night in his home. After a while another man, who was introduced as the school teacher came and sat with us. Soon a heated discussion broke out between the mayor and the school teacher, which I thought by its intensity was going to end up in a fist fight. Finally the mayor turned to me and apologized that the teacher wanted us to stay in his home. He was apologetic because he had already offered us his hospitality, and he thought we would be offended if we were passed off to someone else. I assured him that we were not offended, and that we were very appreciative of the hospitality he had already shown us.

We showed the Jesus Film that night, and then went to the teachers home for supper and a place to sleep for the night. The next morning I was sitting on the front porch drinking Turkish coffee with the man, his son, and his eighty-two year old mother. I asked him why he was so determined to have us stay with him. Like I said, it really looked like he and the mayor were about to come to blows, and that didn’t seem normal somehow. This is what the man said. “I have always wanted to know about God, but I never felt that the dervish (holy man) was telling the whole truth. Two nights ago, the night before you came, I had a dream of a man who came to my village. God told me that this man would tell me what I needed to know about God. The next day you came, and told us about Jesus.”

I told the man that God loved him so much that he sent His only son Jesus to die on the cross for him, and that He rose again from the dead for forgiveness of sins and to give eternal life. I told the man how awesome it was that God also showed His great love and mercy to the man by calling him through a dream to confirm it. As proof I told him the story about how we were not even supposed to be in his village. We were supposed to be in another village way over in another valley, but God had other plans for us. His plan was to send a message to him, the school teacher, through a dream so that he would be prepared to hear God’s Word. God also made sure that we couldn’t stay in our first village, but were able to find transportation to the second village no matter how dubious it was. That man had been prepared by God to receive His Word. That day marked a new life for not only the man, his son, and his mother who all prayed for Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, but also nearly the entire village prayed the same prayer based on that man’s testimony.

I think about all the plans our team had for that particular Jesus Film cycle, and how God designed and moved everyone and everything around so that we would be where He really wanted us to be so that a man and a village would hear the story of His love. His Holy Spirit had prepared them in advance so that when they heard, they believed, and when they believed they followed, and committed their lives to do His will. WOW!!! It’s spectacular to get to be even just a little part of God’s great plan to reach the world He created. A world He desires to reconcile to Himself through His son Jesus Christ.

May God Bless You until next time!

“Better Hurry, Yank!”


Those who have traveled with me before know that I am not the type to wait around in a hotel room or an airport if there is a way to get out and see the sights.  Life is too short not to take advantage of a few extra minutes to get out and see what the world has to offer. Sometimes there is not a lot of time,  but there is enough to have an interesting experience even if just for the purpose of amusing yourself. No one else may actually be interested in the story, but at least you have a memory that you can reflect back on and hopefully it brings a smile to your face. One such short story that has become an amusing memory is the time I was leading a team to Albania. We had a short lay over in Münich, Germany, and since none of the rest of my team had been to Germany before I thought it would be a nice idea to go through passport control and stick our heads out the door and breath some good ol’ German air. We walked out into the taxi and bus  concourse and just as we all took a deep inhalation a large tour bus drove by bellowing black diesel exhaust right in our faces. We all coughed and sputtered and staggered back into the building. Dwayne’s comment was, “Yeah, good ol’ German air.” Unfortunately for some of the team that was the only experience they have had of Good ol’ German air, but we still get a kick out of remembering that time.

Another time I was leading a team to Albania and we had a short lay over in Zürich, Switzerland. Again we decided to step outside the airport, and I was the first to go up to passport control. Now in some international airports they don’t automatically stamp your passport. They just look at it and hand it back to you. So if you want a stamp you have to ask for it. As the controller handed back my unstamped passport I asked him if he could stamp it, “Just for fun.” He said, “Sure, just for fun,” and gave me a nice hard stamp. I asked him if he could also stamp my friend’s passports, “Just for fun.” As each came to his counter, I could hear a nice hard thump as he stamped their passports, and each time he said, “Just for fun.” I don’t know if he thought we were just a bunch of crazy Americans, but I had to think that this might have lightened his day with a little humor.

This desire to see what’s out there has caused a certain amount of anxiety as I have lost count how many times we have been the last to board the aircraft because we just barely made it back in time to the airport after taking one of our little jaunts, but that in itself makes the trip a little more exciting. Remember the O.J. Simpson commercial where he is running through the airport hurdling over luggage… well, I have done that many times, but I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything. It is a requirement that if you are going to travel with me you will use a small backpack as your carry-on instead of a piece of luggage that you have to drag along behind you. Why? Because you can’t leave the airport to experience the culture of your lay over city, and eek out the last precious moments of your time there, and then be able to run like a mad man through the airport hurdling over luggage, if you are dragging your own luggage behind you. A small backpack allows you to become an athletic traveler.

The last story that I shared about my time in Istanbul is a predecessor to this story. The group of men from Texas that I traveled to Istanbul with were going to go through Morocco on the way home, so that left me all by myself to go to London. My layover was a long one. I arrived in London about 9 AM, and my flight back to the U.S.A. was not until the next morning about 11 AM. A guest house had been arranged for me in Red Hill which is a suburb in the south part of London. When I  got to my guest house I knew there was no way I was going to spend the whole day sitting around my room even if I was all by myself.

It was about a mile walk to the town center where I found a book store. I found a good map and a schedule of the transit system for London, and then went to the counter to pay and ask the girl at the counter how to get to the train station. Even though I am pretty sure she was speaking English I could not understand one single word that she said. Fortunately she talked with her hands, and pointed in different directions as she described to me how to get to the train station from the bookstore. I followed the hand directions and my map and finally found the Red Hill station, which much to my delight, went all the way to Victoria Station. I say much to my delight because that was the only station I had actually ever heard of even though London has several other large stations.

The ride took about thirty minutes with several stops in between. From Victoria Station I walked to Buckingham Palace and sat down on the steps of the monument with all the other tourists, and then walked into St. James Park and Green Park. It was a beautiful March day in the park and the trees were just beginning to flower. I wished my wife Karen had been with me as the park was full of couples walking hand in hand. I then walked to Westminster Abby and Parliament Square. Earlier in Red Hill I had bought an all day pass, which allowed me to ride all of the transit for one price. I highly recommend getting one if you are in London. I took the Underground to the  Tower of London and Tower Bridge, and then took it back to Piccadilly Circus. Somehow I found Harrods Department store and walked through there for a while. I’m sure I couldn’t stumble onto it again if I tried, but I was on an adventure, and took things as they came.

The only photos I have of myself in London—pathetically—was when I stopped to take a photo of my reflection in a store front window. I also had my first experience with an attendant at the toilet in Harrods. I walked in to find a pretty young girl in a green blazer with the Harrods emblem on it. The cost was going to be two quid or about four dollars. I decided, 1) I wasn’t going to pay four dollars to use the toilet, and 2) I wasn’t going to have a young girl standing there while I did it. I finally found an outdoor toilet facility in the park.

It was getting late, and as you can imagine, I was pooped. I walked back to Victoria Station, and saw a pub across the street named Shakespeare, and ate a huge fish and chips dinner. I checked the train schedule on the massive overhead board, and saw that my train heading back south was to leave at 22:00 hours. Now I know that 22:00 hours is 10 o’clock PM, but like I said I was tired and I wasn’t thinking straight so when I looked at my watch, which was set for a twelve hour clock, and saw that it was 9:58 PM, in my head I was thinking I still had another hour to shop. As I walked away from the board I vaguely heard an announcement declaring that the train to Brighton was leaving. Ahhh!!! My train was leaving! I ran to the closest open door of the train and jumped in just as the door shut behind me and the train began to pull out of the station.

My heart was practically beating out of my chest as I crossed in front of an older British couple and sat next to the window. The seat compartment was such that there were four sets of seats facing each other with an aisle down the middle. There was just the older couple and me in this compartment and after a nod, and a smile, and a congenial Hello, I stretched out in the seat and quickly closed my eyes. I knew there would be several stops and that it would take about a half an hour before we got to Red Hill. My day had actually started at four in the morning when I left for the airport in Istanbul.

I felt the train stop periodically as I dozed, but I was too tired to open my eyes. I must have fallen asleep because I suddenly jolted up in my seat and looked out to see the station sign for Red Hill hanging right at my window. I think a voice in my head—I’m going to say God—told me to wake up. I grabbed my backpack and darted past the British couple just as the door to the compartment was beginning to close. As I squeezed through the door onto the station platform the old man yelled after me, “Better hurry, Yank.” I stood there panting to catch my breath as the train pulled out of the station on its way to Brighton, the last stop and end of the line for the night. I would have missed my flight the next morning had I slept through  that stop. I walked back through the quiet neighborhood to my guest house chuckling to myself one of my favorite self-abasements, “Rob Dakin you crazy galoot.”

May God Bless You until next time!

The Importance of Correctly Relaying a Message


People frequently ask me if the areas of the world that I go into are dangerous, and if they are, do I ever have any concerns. I honestly try not to dwell on those concerns, or to worry about the potential danger. I have been in situations that were dangerous, but the fact that I am sitting here writing this story is testimony that I have always been OK. That isn’t to say that I am careless, or fool-hardy in going into these areas, in fact I always get as much information as I can about the area before I go. I am as prepared as I can possibly be. I also depend a great deal on God’s protection, which to date has always been ample. My desire is to serve God wholeheartedly, which really leaves no room for worrying about the circumstances or conditions of a particular mission trip. When Jesus called us to Go into all the world, He never promised it would be easy or safe—He actually said it would be hard and dangerous. But I do consider just how hard and how dangerous it could be before I go so that I can be as ready as possible for what ever comes my way.

My very first trip to Turkey was what could be considered a vision trip. I went with a group of men from Texas to explore the possibilities of beginning some kind of humanitarian aid if needed, and in my case it was in the form of dentistry. This was about five months before the earthquake devastated the region in August of 1999. We were very aware that it was illegal for us as Christians to go to the predominantly Muslim country and try to proselytize its people, so this trip was about exploring what may be perceived as needs by the Turkish people, and then try to set up ways to help. After meeting with Turks in Istanbul it became very apparent that they had their own system of credentialing and licensing dentists in Turkey, and they frankly didn’t need any help from the outside. This was in no way discouraging for me because that was what this trip was intended to determine, and I found out exactly what I needed to know. This vision trip was originally organized through contacts that I had in Albania, and instead of viewing it as a waste of time I really enjoyed getting to experience another culture. As it turned out, five months later a terrible earthquake hit Turkey, and those contacts that I had made in Istanbul opened the door for me to go in and set up clinics in the areas hardest hit by the destruction.

This time in Istanbul, however, was not without its dangers. There was, as there still is, a great deal of tension between the Kurdish people—who want their own land and country—and the Turks who possess that land. There was also some unrest between students and the government the Friday before I arrived. I say it was unrest, but it was actually a riot in which people were hurt. The next Friday afternoon I was walking through the streets in the Old City with an American business man I had met in Albania a few years before. He informed me of the previous weeks riots, which had actually taken place in the square we just happened to be entering. He said there was supposed to be another, even worse riot that same afternoon at about four o’clock. I asked where, and he said the very square we were walking through. I glanced at my watch. It was 3:55 PM.  I then noticed police vehicles including a water canon tank, and shielded, helmeted police officers lining part of the square, and a large number of people gathering from every direction. My friend advised that we hurry and get out of there. We exited through the courtyard of a mosque, but before we reached the other side we began hearing the ruckus of chanting, angry sounding voices.

Istanbul is a huge city that I have been told can swell its population during working hours to nearly eighteen million people. It is on both sides of the Bosphorus so it has an Asian and a European side. While I was there, besides rioting students, the Kurds in order to humiliate the Turkish government set off five bombs around the city—mostly in tourist areas. I was not in any of those tourist areas at the time, so I was in no real danger, but I knew it was important to be vigilant, and to be careful where I went.

The day of the second riot in the square, two of those five bombs were detonated in two different places in the city. I got back to my hotel late, and decided to call my wife, Karen, and see how things were going at home, and to tell her I was OK and not to worry about me—yeah, right! It was midnight Istanbul time, and I figured that with the eight hour time difference it would be 4 PM in Wichita, and Karen would probably be home after getting the kids from school. This was before cell phones, so my phone call was made from my hotel room phone using a prepaid phone card. Remember those days? Well, Karen was not at home yet, but my teenage daughter Aubrey was. After a minute or so of asking questions and giving answers, I said to Aubrey, “You may have heard on the news that some bombs have gone off here in Istanbul. Two went off today, but be sure to tell mom that I wasn’t anywhere near them, and that I am OK, and I miss her and love her.”

I went to bed after hanging up with Aubrey, and fell asleep quickly not waking up until the morning prayer call at 5 AM. The call was being made right outside my window from the mosque minaret next door. The purpose of the call is to wake up the devout follower to start their day in prayer. I was wide awake—there is no way to sleep through one of those calls—so I also decided to use the time to pray. After the call ceased I thought it would be a good idea to call Karen again. It would be about 9:30 PM Wichita time so I figured that she would maybe have some time to herself after getting the kids into bed. I dialed the number from my phone card and then the necessary number to get my home. Karen answered. When she heard my voice she immediately went into a heart wrenching wail, and began nervously talking faster than any human should be able to about how she thought she was never going to see me again, and how horrible the last five hours had been. After I finally got her to calm down I found out that the message Aubrey had relayed to her was, “Dad called. He was in two bombs today, but he is OK.” I felt terrible for Karen. I really had no idea how horrible the last five hours had been for her, but I was thankful for the prayer call that prompted me to pray, and then call her when I did.

As you can probably imagine when I got home I had a nice father to daughter chat on the importance of conveying information accurately!

May God bless You until next time!

Too Cocky For My Own Good


I have shared a number of stories about my first mission trip to Albania in which I was part of the Albanian Evangelical Rural Outreach, or AERO for short. The thing about that trip was that it was so spectacularly different from anything that I had ever done before it really truly became a life changing event. I can honestly say I have never been the same since that time. It reshaped how I think about nearly everything. How I interpret things, and how I respond to things has taken on a whole new face during, and after that experience. It gave me a whole new sense of confidence not only in myself, but also in God. It showed me that even though this world is full of terrible injustice and hardship, God really does care through the people He has raised up to accomplish His will. The problem is, not all of us respond to God’s call, or some people are actually antagonistic against it, and so… the… world… is full of… terrible injustice and hardship.

But this trip was full of so many new experiences I couldn’t help but change. So what were some of the firsts? Well, flying into remote villages in the Balkan Alps by helicopter was a biggie. The villagers didn’t know that we were coming, but within minutes of landing we were surrounded by people who lived as they had lived for generations on the side of the mountains—no electricity, no running water, no roads (only sheep trails), and no consistent contact with the outside world (this was before cell phones). Strangers rarely came, and many people had never seen a non-Albanian before, let alone an American. The Communist government had only recently collapsed and for most people America used to be the enemy, so that in itself was a unique situation in that they wanted to know all about us.

We knew that our second village was just over the mountain in a valley to the west. We asked if there was away to get there with our equipment—we were trying to avoid using the helicopter as much as possible because of the expense. One of the men volunteered to take us the next day. We packed the equipment on his small statured Albanian horse and headed up the mountain following the sheep trails, and then descended into the next valley after we had crested the summit. Before we reached the next village it began to rain hard, which made for an even more adventurous experience.

The villager’s hospitality was another impressive eye-opening experience. I wrote about it in detail in my previous post, Hospitality/Albania. We were strangers, but the people accepted us into their homes, fed us, and helped us travel to the next village, and made sure we were safe. Over the next few years as I went back to Albania for the AERO Projekt, I had several men, whose hospitality we had the privilege to enjoy, say to me, “It would be better for our whole family to be killed than for anything to happen to you as our guest.” And they meant it! Wow. It explained a story from the Bible in the book of Genesis, that I never really understood until then, about how two angels disguised as men went to a city and were given hospitality by a guy named Lot. The men of the city came that night to do harm to the two angels, but Lot tried to dissuade them by offering his two daughters. From my cultures perspective I could never understand why Lot would do that, but these people in Albania lived that kind of hospitality. If your guest, even though a stranger, entrusted their safety to you, then you are willing to die for them as a matter of honor. I think I have become a better host since those days, but I’m still not sure I would take it as far as they were willing to.

I traveled down a river on a barge, ate really different kinds of food, learned to use a Turkish toilet (see previous story, I Don’t Think I would Have Said It That Way), learned a few words in Albanian, and only had enough water to take two cold showers while I was there. I survived the terrible stomach ailments that devastated so many of the Americans due to the food and water, although no one left Albania unscathed. We all at one point or another experienced a weakness in our bowls. The final affliction of diarrhea, the point in time when we knew that either it had hit you or it hadn’t hit you yet, became referred to as Michael Angelo or Picasso. Sculpturable, or unsculpturable.  Most all of us left the country unsculpturable (Yes, this is a new word).

All this is to say, by the time the project was over I was feeling pretty darn manly. When our American team left Albania we had to spend the night in Vienna, Austria. Many of the team were tired and wanted to stay at the hotel, but I and four other guys decided that we should see as much of Vienna as we possibly could so we went on a night tour of the city arranged by our hotel. The tour bus took us to eat at an authentic Austrian restaurant, and then drove us around a bit. We rode the Riesenrad, the big Ferris wheel, at the Prater Amusement park, which has fifteen huge gondolas from which you can see all over Vienna. When we were at the top of the arc, I overheard a young couple who was with us in our gondola, speaking English. We hadn’t really heard a lot of English since we had left home, and so we were drawn to it. An amazing small world kind of story is that the young couple was on their honeymoon. They lived in New York, but they were originally from our hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Who would have thought?

The highlight of the evening was an orchestrated Waltz performance by professional Viennese dancers in the gardens behind a palace. The evening was cool and pleasant as we sat around tables on a veranda . It  had been very hot in the villages and in our base camp, so the cool Austrian breeze was a welcomed relief. There were several waltzes performed by four beautifully dressed couples in formal attire. After a time the maestro turned to the audience and said in English, “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please waltz with us The Blue Danube Waltz. Vienna is the birthplace of the waltz, and The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss is one of the better known waltzes. There were two little old German Ladies that were on our bus tour who were sitting at another table. When the music started they bobbed their heads to the beat with big smiles on their faces. I thought, How can we come to Vienna, and not waltz to The Blue Danube Waltz? I caught the eye of my buddy Russell who was thinking the exact same thing, and the two of us got up and each tapped a little old lady on the shoulder, and chivalrously  extended our arms, and said, “Frau bitte.” They immediately—and gleefully, I might add—jumped up, and we headed to the dance floor. Neither Russell, nor I really knew anything about the waltz. We were in to the Texas Two Step, so our little old ladies had to lead, but we still had a great time. After that for the rest of the bus tour the German ladies got after the bus driver/tour guide for not pointing out more land marks for us in English. You might say they had our backs for the rest of the tour.

When we finally got back to our hotel, Russell and I stood outside for a while enjoying the coolness of the evening. Like I said after all I had been through over the last couple of weeks I was feeling pretty manly…I was feeling pretty tough… I was feeling pretty good about myself spiritually, mentally, and most of all at this point, physically. To prove it I said to Russell, “I am going to flatulate.” Because of our intestinal problems passing gas was something that we had not been able to do for nearly two weeks. Russell wisely advised with a shake of his head, “Don’t do it.” I said, “No, I’m feeling pretty good, I think I can do it.” I ignored Russell’s advice. I will just say, It didn’t turn out the way I was hoping it would. So much for being cocky.

I hope you are not offended by this story, but like I said at the very beginning of this weblog all these stories are taken from the journals of my travels. Some are serious, some are funny. Some have valuable life lessons, and some are embarrassing, but they all really did happen. In reality, I guess this story actually portrays a very valuable life lesson. Need I say more?

God Bless You until next time.

What Do You See?

I have previously talked a little about the difference between culture shock and culture stress. Culture shock is sometimes experienced by someone who has moved to a culture that is very different from their own. Food, housing, transportation, language, traditions, religions, even smells and appearances can be so different that it shocks the individual into a state of confusion, the inability to concentrate, or make decisions, or perform normal daily functions. These people are usually in the culture for the long haul with little chance of going back to their home culture for an extended period of time. It can take several days to weeks for the individual to acclimate to the new surroundings, and integrate into the community. Culture stress on the other hand can have all of the above circumstances, and elicit the same responses to those circumstances, but it is more temporary. In other words, the individual may feel a certain shock to their senses when they are immersed into the new culture, but the reality is they will be going home in a few days, and once they recognize that their involvement in the new culture is only temporary, they can deal with the differences and hopefully enjoy learning and experiencing something new.

Culture stress is always a possibility for a short term mission. Almost everyone experiences it the first time they find themselves in a very different culture from their own. It is how they react that can make the difference between an all out fantastic experience, and a once in a life time experience—that is, an experience you do once in your life and hope you never have to repeat it. If they have prepared themselves by learning as much as they possibly can about the culture before they go, then it is much easier for them to adapt. It is often better to expect the very worst of circumstances, and then to be pleasantly surprised. But all too often the traveler expects the circumstances to be ideal by their own cultures standards only to find themselves devastated and disappointed in the reality that they are faced with.

So, how would you react? You go into a village where the people live as they have lived for hundreds of years. No running water. No electricity. You have been traveling most of the day to reach this village, and after the quaintness of village life begins to fade and the reality of its harshness begins to sink in, you ask your host where the bathroom is. They smile and lead you out the front door, around the side and to the back of the house, and they point to a small shack perched precariously on the hillside. You gulp, feeling you might be up for anything, but then as you step over the cow that is comfortably laying in your path, you draw closer to the shack only to find that your gag reflex has kicked in because of the smell, and you can barely stand to enter the fly swarming darkness. As the contraption of a wooden door creaks open you see in the dim shadow a four inch in diameter hole  rimmed with the residue of someone else’s visit. Would you take a deep breath, buck up, and go on in realizing that this is the best that it is going to be for the time that you will be accepting this families hospitality, or… will you back out and make a note to yourself to “hold it” until you get home? Which ever way you choose, will you keep it to yourself, or will you go back to your companions complaining, or joking about the appalling conditions? Your entire experience in this village will be enhanced or tainted by the decision that you make. If you are able too “buck up” and accept this families hospitality in whatever form it takes without complaining, or cracking jokes, you will find that you will come to appreciate their culture in all of its nuances, and actually take something valuable home in the way of your own personal development.

The thing that is most important to remember is that these people live this way, and they may not have had the opportunity to know of anything else. It can be very offensive to them if you complain or crack jokes. I remember being in a meeting at the close of a project, in which nearly every international visiting this country got up and gave a testimony about their time in the villages, and each included a comment on how horrible the toilets were. After several of these testimonials, I over heard one of the nationals lean over to his neighbor and say, “I just wish they would stop talking about it!”

Another common area of concern is food. Looks, smell, texture, and taste can all play a role in our contemplation of turning our noses up at what is served to us. My basic attitude is, if they can live on it, then so can I!

Sights and sounds can often haunt us. Straddling the stream of an open sewer as  you walk through the narrow alleys between the shanties of an African slum can make you despair, and wonder out loud, How can people live like this? You may have been warned of the “flying toilets”—feces placed in plastic bags and flung anywhere except where the person flinging it is standing, or you may have heard of the poverty, disease, and hopelessness. You may have seen pictures of children living in dangerous environments—danger from disease, war, famine, and neglect, but nothing really prepares you for what you will see until you have actually stepped out into it. You see scars, and you look the other way. It is only natural, but the person wearing those scars whether they got them because of maiming, disease, or trauma need to be shown compassion and respect more than ever before in their lives. To paraphrase Barbara Kingsolver in her novel, Poisonwood Bible, scars are the mark of a survivor.

What do you see? Do you see all the problems, or backwardness, or terrible conditions, and shake your head sadly, but continue to walk timidly with your eyes closed hoping that nothing sticks to you, or that you don’t catch something you can’t get rid of with the medicines your doctor gave you before you left home? What I am hoping you will see are the people in those conditions, and know that for some reason your paths have crossed. I am hoping you will ask yourself, What can I do to make things better? It may be just a simple gesture like a smile, handshake, or a hug, or it may be sharing food, or clothing. You may help build something, or become an advocate for justice. But what ever it is you decide to do, the avenue for a fantastic cross cultural experience is to give yourself whole heartedly to the pursuit of doing whatever you can to make the world better for the glory of God. That may push you way beyond your comfort zone, but it will be worth it in so many ways!

So, what do you see? May God Bless you until next time!

“I Told You Not To Go Out There!”

Albania—Responsibility and  Liability

There are many things that have impressed me over the years about Albania. The culture and hospitality I have already mentioned in previous stories, but another aspect of Albanian society that I have always been intrigued with is their pragmatism in matters of responsibility and liability. For the most part they have this mentality that they take responsibility for their own actions. They are not always looking for someone to blame if they do something wrong. For example, if there is road construction and a big hole has been dug the average Albanian will simply avoid falling into it. Their mentality is, if you are stupid enough to fall into the hole, then it is your own fault. Unfortunately in my society the person who falls into the hole will all too often look to blame the person who dug it. The average Albanian wouldn’t even think about blaming someone else for spilling hot food on themselves. But in my society sometimes we are afraid to admit that we are nincompoops, and if we happen to have an episode in which we behave like nincompoops, then it has to be, obviously, someone else’s fault. Now I know there are many cases in which someone causes harm to another, but I am not talking about those times. I’m talking about someone walking toward and falling into a hole in the ground because they were too busy talking on their cell phones, and then wanting to blame someone else for it. Albania can sometimes be fairly haphazard in regard to public safety, but the rule of thumb is, Watch where you are going! Know that there is danger out there. Listen, and watch for signs of trouble. And if you don’t, the consequences are on your own head.

My story this week, however, is not about bashing Americans who don’t watch where they are going and praising Albanians who do, but once again it is about my own nincompoopness in not listening to the warning of an Albanian friend and finding myself in trouble.  I was on a Jesus Film Team—see previous posts—around the coastal area of southwestern Albania. At this time our base camp was in the coastal city of Vlora, and our villages were scattered north between Vlora and another city called Fier. Our villages this year were actually more like small towns. They were much more urban than villages I had been in during previous Jesus Film projects. There was more hustle and bustle. More distractions, and more noise.

The first night I was in the base camp and every night I was in the base camp subsequent to that, I was kept awake by a large, very loud barking dog just outside my window. He pretty much barked all night, every night, but I couldn’t really blame the dog as it was a full moon. I never did sleep well while I was in the base camp that year. In years past I always looked forward to getting out into the remote villages where the pace was slower and the atmosphere was quieter, but like I said this particular year the villages were more urban and so I didn’t sleep well out in them either. By the time our team had gone into all three villages showing the Jesus Film, and then returned to our base camp after four days, I was exhausted. When I got back to my dorm all I wanted to do was take a nap.

Of course nothing really works out like you plan, and one of the first axioms of mission work is, you must be flexible. My opportunity for flexibility came right after I had eaten lunch, and I was on my way to my bunk for a nap. My good Albanian friends Avni and Maklen had just pulled into our compound with their campus team leaders who were part of a training conference in the same area, and they had stopped in to say hello. I hadn’t seen them yet that year so the reunion with them and other friends on their team was a wonderful time. Avni informed me that their afternoon was free from the conference, and that they were all going to the beach, and they invited me to go with them.

I hadn’t had a shower in several days, and so I was hot and stinky, and even though I was very tired I didn’t want to pass up the chance to go for my first swim in the Ionian Sea. So ignoring my fatigue I grabbed my trunks, and we all piled into the Land Rover Defender and headed to the beach.

Albania’s shores sweep into the Aegean Sea to the north and the Ionian Sea to the south. Some beaches are sandy, which is the kind I prefer due to my tender footedness, and others are rocky. The beach in Vlora is of the later. We drove south of the city and came to small rocky beach that had large rock formations jutting up from the surf. Now on any American beach there would have been red flags flying that day warning people not to get into the water due to the enormous waves that were crashing into the rock formations and onto the beach at this time of month. But as I stated in the first paragraph the Albanian mentality is that you should see the enormous waves crashing onto the beach and have sense enough not to get into the water without having to be told not to.

All my Albanian friends flipped off their shoes and ran into the surf in their bare feet, completely unbothered by the rocks. I kept my Rebook sandals firmly fastened and joined them. The best way to describe the action of the waves is violent. One of the Albanian girls who was from Vlora said that she and her friends often swam out to a large flat rock formation that lay about one hundred and fifty meters out, and they would climb on top of it and dive off. I asked if they did that even when the waves were so high, and she said that it was not a problem, or sk’a problem. I looked at the waves and the distance to the rock and thought that it not only looked do-able, but also fun. I was a strong swimmer, in fact I used to be a lake life guard when I was young, and in my way of thinking if this little girl could do it, then so could I, and when would I ever get another chance to swim out to a rock formation and dive off into the Ionian sea?

Now this is where the heavy weight of my sheer nincompoopedness began to come into play. My friend Maklen calmly and without feeling the need to coax a grown man to use his head, told me that I shouldn’t go. I ignored her. I joined the Albanian college student who had already swam passed the first wave break, and the two of us slowly and deliberately swam for the rock formation. When we got closer we could see from our new perspective that the violence of the waves against that rock was too great, and there would be no way to safely climb up on top of it without being dashed to pieces.

So we began our swim back to the beach. The swells undulated and tossed us, and the undertow caught our feet and dragged us backward. Several times the swell was so deep that I lost sight of the beach, but I knew that although I was getting extremely tired I couldn’t give up. Do you remember that movie with Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise where Burt changes his mind and decides that he doesn’t want to commit suicide by drowning himself in the ocean, so he turns back and laboriously swims to the beach making promises to God all along the way. At first when he thinks he is going to drown he promises God everything, but the closer he gets to the beach his promises become more and more superficial. Well, my promises to God didn’t become more and more superficial, but I definitely was pleading for my life.

By the time we reached the beach, I literally crawled out on my hands and knees and collapsed over onto my back snorting snot and coughing and spewing water like a ship wrecked castaway. When I finally regained a little strength I rolled over onto my stomach to see Maklen sunning herself on her beach towel near the embankment opposite me, and looking curiously at me. She with matter-of-fact calmness said, “A couple of times I lost sight of you out there.” I said, “I almost drowned!” Her reply was simple. “I told you not to go out there!” Her implication was clear. Had I drowned I would have had no one to blame but myself. Ahh!… See how simple that is?

Despite that day, Avni and Maklen and I are still good friends. I can’t wait  for Karen and I to see them in Albania next month! May God Bless you until next time!

A Time To Go


We don’t always have a plan that takes us years into the future. Most of us set goals a little at a time, and once we achieve those goals we set new ones. We often change our likes and dislikes over the years. That doesn’t mean we are wishy-washy or that we compromise our core beliefs, but at one season of our lives we are passionate about something, and then at other times we are passionate about something else. It is this ability to change and adapt, and set new goals that allows us to go beyond ourselves—to get out of our box, and make a difference in the world.

This story has to do with my daughter, Aubrey, and her first mission trip with me. For years I had been going on mission trips to Albania and Turkey, and I would frequently suggest to my kids that they should go on one with me sometime. By this time two of my sons, Josh and Joe had gone with me, but Aubrey repeatedly said she didn’t want to go. She had heard the stories that inspired my posts, You Left My Baby!!!, and The Night of The Chicken, and I guess she just didn’t want any part of that.

One February, Karen and I went to Kansas City with our youngest son Joe for Karen’s birthday. Our son Jon was living in Kansas City going to school, and Aubrey was a student at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, so she drove over to spend the weekend with us. It was a snowy day, but we had a long list of things that we wanted to do.

That afternoon I was driving down one of the freeways with Aubrey, Jon, and Joe sitting in the back seat, when Aubrey just out of the blue said, “Hey Dad, next time you go on a mission trip I want to go with you.” I quickly checked my carotid pulse to make sure I was still alive, and said, “Really?” “Yea, I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I would really like to go to Africa if you ever get the chance.”

I didn’t know if she was just hedging her bets knowing that I had never been to Africa before, and it was unlikely that I ever would go, and thus she would be off the hook. But Karen and I were very excited that she had come at least as far as saying she wanted to go, since before it had always been an adamant No!

The next day, back in Wichita, I got a phone call at my office from a man named Daniel who worked with Hospitals of Hope International. He said he had gotten my name from someone because of the mission trips I had been on, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in joining a team that was being put together to set up healthcare clinics in Liberia. My jaw pretty much dropped to the floor, but after a moment I was able to come out of my stupor and ask for specific information. The bottom line was that the team was leaving in June. I told him I would have to pray about it, and I would have to see if it was even possible since I had just been in Kazakhstan three months before in December.

After hanging up from Daniel I called Aubrey who had just gotten out of class. I said, “Hey Aub, you are not going to believe this, but  I was just asked to put a dental team together to go to Liberia in June.” She said, “You’re kidding! What a coincidence! So what did you say?” I told her that I was going to pray about it, and then let him know in two weeks. The next Monday I was at a continuing education seminar, and I ran into a dental school classmate whose daughter Stephanie just happened to be one of Aubrey’s room mates at KSU. She said,” Hey Rob, I understand that Aubrey and Stephanie are going with you to Liberia this summer.” I was pretty shocked, and said, “Where did you hear that? I haven’t even decided to go yet.” She said that the girls had it all worked out, and were making plans to go with me. She told me that Stephanie was very excited because she had always wanted to go on a mission like this. I called Aubrey after my continuing education meeting to find out what was going on, and she told me that they were already looking into passports, and what kind of “shots” they needed.

I am the type of person that believes that when I pray about something I expect God to answer somehow, and give me clear direction. So when all these events coincidentally took place I didn’t really look at them as being a coincidence. I thought, “Well God must want me to go to Liberia.” Along with Hospitals of Hope, He arranged for my daughter, and her college room mate to have the desire to go, and there by, giving me a nudge in that direction.

The following Monday I called Daniel and told him I felt that I should go with the team to Liberia. I told him the story about Aubrey and Stephanie, and after I finished there was a pause, and then he said, “Hmm… amazing.” He went on to say that ever since I had given an indication that I would at least consider going, and that I would pray about it, He and the rest of the team had been praying everyday that I would go. I said, “Hmm… so I guess I really didn’t have a chance.” He said, “No, it looks like you really didn’t have a chance.”

Aubrey and Stephanie did a great job while they were in Liberia, but I think it was     because they were ready, and that they really wanted to be there. Aubrey hadn’t been ready to go on a foreign mission when I asked her in the past, but she knew the invitation was always open, and when she was ready—mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally—she went. Since that time she has also gone with me to the Mathare Valley slums in Nairobi, Kenya.

Sometimes we just need time to process an invitation like that. An invitation that will definitely get you out of your comfort zone, and stretch you beyond what you think you are capable of doing. When you are ready—you’re ready. When you are not—you’re not. But when you are ready be prepared to jump on the wildest ride you have ever been on, and know that your little bit can maybe help someone else’s life be better…not to mention your own.

May God Bless You until next time!

A Light In The Dark


If you have been following my stories from the beginning you will note that I often bring up subjects or experiences that for the most part are kind of embarrassing for me. I don’t do this because I have a negative self image, it is just that some of the things I have actually gotten to experience are so amazing, so cool… so out there that it could be erroneously construed that I must do everything right in life, and that I deserve these wonderful experiences. Well, I don’t do everything right in life, but it is pretty awesome to get to see God glorify Himself while I just happen to be around.

One such experience took place when my wife, Karen, Dwayne, DeAnne, and Mark went with me to Kazakhstan, and we set up three different dental clinics in two orphanages, and one village. To give a little background to my story I need to go back to my childhood. One of the reasons I think I sometimes have  been surprised to see how God works is that I grew up in a very conservative home. We read our Bibles, and prayed everyday, and we went to church twice on Sundays and again on Wednesday night. We believed in the power of prayer, and in the truth of God’s Word. We knew God was sovereign, and that He had a wonderful plan for our lives, but there was almost no charismatic presence in my up-bringing. What I mean by this is that unlike some Christian groups who believe and follow these practices, for us there was no emphasis on special words, waters, or oils for bringing about blessing or special formulas for invoking God’s power. Karen was raised in much the same way. So when a friend gave Karen a small vial of special oil to use for blessing our clinics in Kazakhstan we didn’t really know what to do with it. We weren’t against it—we just were not familiar with how to use it.

We arrived in Almaty, the former capitol of Kazakhstan, and set up our first clinic in a compound of facilities that housed our living quarters, dinning hall, business offices, class rooms, and the room we would later convert into a clinic. This is the same room that I wrote about in Nakedness Causes Creativity. It actually took a couple of days to get all of our luggage and equipment from the airlines, but once we did we assembled all of the equipment, and laid out all of the supplies in such a way as to be as efficient as possible with the anticipation that we were going to have a great many patients coming through the clinic that day.

We had joined Dr. Igor, Luba, Timor, and Olga who were part of the organization that invited us to come. We spent a good part of our first day getting to know them, and explain to them the function and uses of our equipment and supplies. At some point during that morning before the first patients arrived, Karen had gone around the room and prayed for God’s will to be done for His glory, and that all of the equipment would work, and that Dr. Igor and I would be able to treat everyone who came to the clinic. I didn’t actually realize she had done this until lunch when she told me of her little prayer walk, and that she had used up all of the small vial of oil in that one room.

Since we only had equipment for one dentist we divided into two teams. One team worked with me and the other team worked with Dr. Igor. We switched back and forth periodically just  to break up the tension of having so many people wanting to be seen in our clinic. It worked well. As one team was working with the patient the other team was getting everything ready for the next patient, and then were able to spend some time talking about Jesus with the people who were waiting. The clinic was open to anyone who wanted to come free of charge, and we only talked about Jesus to those who were willing to listen which ended up being just about everyone. We didn’t expect everyone to agree with us, but we were encouraged by how many listened politely, and then asked for more information.

We had gone to Kazakhstan in early December, so the sun set very early in the evening. After seeing patients all afternoon we took a quick supper break, and then started in again seeing those who were waiting. We were so busy that we never left that room. Child after child, adult after adult streamed into the room in what seemed to us was becoming a never ending line. I don’t have to tell you we were starting to get really, really tired.

At about 8 o’clock one of the Kazkh men came into the room and asked us how it was that we still had electricity. We had no idea what he was talking about, but the people standing in line affirmed that there was no electricity anywhere except in this room. Dr. Igor was seeing a patient so Mark and I went outside the room to find a long line of people standing in a line that wound its way from the hall illuminated only by the light of our room, down the dark stairway, and out the first floor door. As we went outside we were surprised to find that the electricity in the entire compound was out. We walked through the gate into the neighborhood and found that there was not a street light, or house light that could be seen in any direction.   The sky was overcast and so the landscape of houses and trees were just an eery collage of black silhouettes for as far as we good see.

When we turned back to the compound the only light in the entire area shown like a beacon from the window of our little second floor room. We met the man who was the compound’s maintenance engineer coming out of the building with a confused look on his face. He said that all the electricity was off in the building except for that one room. I was familiar with power outages in other parts of the world so I was not surprised when he said that the neighborhood was on a grid and occasionally looses power, but he couldn’t explain why our room was the only one in the neighborhood to have power. I asked him about fuses, and phases—things that I really didn’t know a whole lot about—but he assured us that the room was on the same phase as the rest of the building.

As Mark and I stood there a number of neighborhood people came through the gate drawn to the light and curious as to how we had light and they didn’t. At that moment we knew that God had answered Karen’s prayer for His glory. What is it when something unexplainable, improbable, and spectacular happens? Well, most people would call it a miracle, which is how we interpreted it. We went back inside the room and informed our team of what was going on outside. Luba simply and without doubt said, “It is because of Karen’s prayer and her oil. God wants us to keep working.”

 We did keep working that night. We finally finished with the last person standing in line at midnight. The light never dimmed in our room that night, and the lights never came back on in the neighborhood until the next morning. It was amazing to see God working in the lives of our team and how He drew people to Himself because of that event. The neighborhood people spread the word about that light, and many people were more willing to listen to our stories about Jesus because of it. I personally put more stock in God answering Karen’s prayer than I do in the oil that she smeared in various places around the room… but then again…

May God Bless you until next time!

Yes,Yes,Yes! No, No, No!

Before I start telling my story this week I wanted to give a quick overview of what my website is about. These stories are taken from my journals that I kept on my mission trips over the years to Albania, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Kenya. I first became involved in missions with Campus Crusade for Christ showing the Jesus Film in Albania shortly after the fall of communism. Going into the villages made me realize a need for healthcare in these villages so I began doing dental missions in remote villages among the Albanians and Gypsies. These relationships opened the door for me to get involved with earthquake relief in Turkey. Those relationships got my name “out there” and I was asked to do the same thing in Kazakhstan, Liberia, and Kenya setting up clinics in villages, orphanages, and the slums. My stories are posted about one a week with the newest posting at the top of the page. Scroll on down and read, and leave a personal comment at the end of a particular story. Let me know where you are from, and how the story touched you. People are reading this weblog on every continent now except from Antarctica and from many countries. It’s a blast to learn about new cultures. I hope you enjoy the stories, and that they inspire you to make your own!

Remember the scene in that great old movie, Singing in the Rain, when the studio was doing the public screening for its first “talky” movie? In addition to the terrible sound recording the sound track actually got out of sync with the film and the actors went into a hilarious argument, with the actions just opposite from the words. One actor vigorously shouted, “No, No, No!” while nodding her head yes, and the other adamantly exclaimed, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” while shaking his head no. That same scene is often played out when foreigners go into Albania for the first time.

One of the cultural differences that took me the longest to get used to was the Albanians nodding their heads up and down when they mean no, and shaking their heads from side to side when they mean yes. This of course is the opposite from just about everyone else in the world except for Bulgarians. It took me several trips to Albania before I  became instinctively aware that just because they were shaking their heads no in English they were actually shaking their yes in Albanian. I spent my first couple of times there worried that the villagers did not agree with what I was saying through the interpreter as they many times enthusiastically shook their heads.

It was not uncommon to see not only me, but other first time Americans shaking then nodding then shaking again with bewildered looks on our faces as we tried to conform to the new custom. I eventually just began rolling my head in a circular motion, which was always good for a light hearted laugh with the villagers at my, and every other Americans expense.

We got in trouble more than once when we were offered something and we either didn’t get it when we wanted it, or we got it when we didn’t want it just because of an improper head response. It seemed that actions usually spoke louder than words because the Albanian villagers in the early days didn’t expect Americans to be able to speak or understand any Albanian, so even though we might vocalize yes in Albanian by saying po, if we nodded our heads up and down American style it was taken for a no. The same with saying no, or jo (pronounced yo), but shaking our heads from side to side invariably always resulted in us getting something that we didn’t want.

Probably the worst case—and I think the funniest I’m ashamed to say—came in that first year of my missions, which I described in my previous story, The Night of the Chicken. Again this story revolves around my American friend Greg. In our third village of the Jesus Film cycle—described in previous posts—our team was split up into two parts with Greg and I in different homes. Greg and Bledi were asked to spend the night in the home of a man whose wife and children were away visiting family in another village. The man quickly let it be known to Greg and Bledi that he wanted to stay up and smoke cigarettes and drink raki since it was not something he normally got to do when his wife was at home. As I described in my previous story, What Proof Was That Again?, I recounted that raki is a moonshine made in most cases from distilled grapes in just about every village in the Balkans. It can sometimes have an alcohol content of up to 80% or 160 proof. I don’t think anyone just naturally likes raki the first hundred times or so they taste it—let me rephrase that—abuse themselves with it, but it has become a fairly significant part of the village culture that we were always running into.

Bledi was very proficient in English, but at this time in his English studies his mind could still fatigue after a whole day of constantly translating everything, or nearly everything that was being said in English back to the villagers in Albanian, and then from the Albanian to the English. That night Bledi, after a while, had become exhausted from his duties as translator, and told Greg that he was sleepy and he was going to sleep. This action, although certainly understandable after a hard day of travel and translating, left poor Greg at the willful whim of the man who wanted to smoke and drink. Greg was left to fend for himself having no Albanian understanding of his own, hosted by an Albanian villager who understood and spoke no English. Now to clarify the situation the host was simply being hospitable. He was following the code of Lekë Dukagjini written hundreds of years ago concerning the proper conduct of Albanians towards strangers and travelers. The man wanted his guest, Greg, to feel as much at home as possible. The host was willing to go out of his way to make Greg and Bledi feel welcome. Unfortunately for Greg this hospitality consisted of food, lodging, comradeship, smoking, and drinking raki. Each time the man offered Greg a cigarette he shook his head vigorously NO! from his English point of view, which of course was a vigorous Yes! in Albanian. This prompted the man to joyfully stuff cigarette after cigarette into poor Greg’s protesting mouth. This was also the case with the raki, which was nearly ladled down Greg’s throat with each shake of his head. The man truly felt he had found a worthy comrade. A companion to revel the night away.

The next morning as we were meeting at our rendezvous site to be picked up by the helicopter Greg pulled me aside and told me of his harrowing experience. He begged me to never leave him again in a separate house. I honestly felt terrible for Greg, but at the same time I couldn’t help but see the humor in it—which means I did everything I could to not bust out laughing. Eventually, after his upset stomach and head ache went away… Greg also saw the humor in it and it became a motivator for both of us to practice saying yes and no in the Albanian way.

Now I am going to get up on my little soap box and say how important it is for us as travelers who go into another culture, or to another people group, to do all we can to learn the customs of the local people and to modify our behavior to fit  their’s for at least as long as we are in their “space”.  We shouldn’t assume that they all speak English, and we shouldn’t expect them to. Try to learn a little of their language even if it is just a few words of greeting or thanks. It will let them know that you care and you are willing to try. Try their foods without sticking your nose up at it. If they can survive on it, then so can you barring any medical considerations. I can pretty much guarantee that the more you learn about, and try to immerse yourself into their culture the more meaning it will have for you as you travel with a purpose through this big wonderful world.

God Bless you until next time!

The Night Of The Chicken

Qerg Muli, Albania

The first Albanian village I had ever spent time in was a tiny village in the northern Tropoja province, high up in the Balkan Alps by the name of Qerg Muli. I wrote about my experience with Albanian hospitality in an earlier post, Hospitality/Albania, which also took place in Qerg Muli. I used the village as part of my novel, Vale of Shadows—you can check out that synopsis at www.robdakin.com on the hyperlink above.

There is a condition that many who travel to foreign lands experience known as culture shock. In reality culture shock is what happens to someone who is thrust into a significantly different culture, and then find themselves overwhelmed by the differences, knowing that they are not going home anytime soon if ever at all. What most of us who do not stay in the different culture long-term actually experience is culture stress. We are maybe over-whelmed by something in the culture, but our exposure is short-term and we know we will be home soon so we are able to cope with it. The comparison between culture shock and culture stress, however, can seem almost identical when we are in the middle of that particular situation or circumstance.

My personal culture stress came in the form of being so far away from home in an inaccessible mountain region that we flew into by helicopter because there were no roads, and with team mates, that although we became friends later, I didn’t know. The people lived as they had lived hundreds of years ago with no electricity, no running water, no roads, and no consistent contact with the outside world. I got over my culture stress pretty quickly, and very soon I fell in love with the Albanian culture and the people—particularly after the lady cracked the acorns open for me with her teeth (see above mentioned story).

My story this week focuses on my American friend Greg who I didn’t really know until we went into the villages. Our first night after the Jesus Film showing we were invited to stay in the home of a woman who had five daughters. The three guys on the team, Bledi, Greg, and I were placed in the room were we had eaten supper around a low table while seated on the floor. The woman of the house kindly sprawled a mattress on the floor next to a low sill window, and the three of us stretched out with Greg next to the window, Bledi in the middle, and me on the outside. It was well after midnight by the time we went to bed. We had set up taking with the family by the light of my flashlight that I sat on end illuminating the ceiling. It was the first time this family had ever had any kind of electricity, and since they rarely had guests, they were more than willing to stay up and talk. As we dozed off Greg made a comment that this trip was going to be harder than he thought it was going to be. I couldn’t blame him because I was thinking the same thing.

About 3 o’clock in the morning I vaguely became conscious of a commotion outside of the window. I was still in a sleepy stupor in the dark, but I could have sworn that there was a silhouette of something perched on the window sill for a moment, and then the sensation that something had run across my legs. I laid there starring into the dark for a very long time until I finally went back to sleep. The image of that deep, black silhouette haunted my dreams for the rest of the night.

The next morning we were awakened by the crow of a rooster, and by the swarming of one million, two hundred and thirty-thousand, seven hundred and fifty flies buzzing around our faces, up our noses, and in our ears. That, of course is an exaggeration, but the point is there was a large swarm of flies buzzing around us. I stretched into a sitting up position on the edge of the mattress as Bledi and Greg began to stir. Greg looked over at me with blood shot eyes, and then determinedly tried to open the closed window from his seated position. Seeing that the window didn’t budge he let out a sigh of relief and turned back to me saying, “I didn’t sleep at all last night. I dreamed that something jumped through that window and ran across my chest and out the door. I’m glad to see that the window is locked. What a nightmare!” I didn’t say anything about what I thought I had experienced, and continued to put on my socks.

On hearing that we were up the woman rolled in the low table on which we were to eat breakfast, and the rest of our team Nikki, and Keti came in and joined us on the floor around it. As the daughters brought in bread and cosk—yogurt swimming in grease, a staple in northern Albania—the woman casually went over and gave the bottom of the window a little tap with her finger causing it to pop open. Greg watched with growing terror in his eyes. The window had no sooner popped open than a chicken hopped on to the sill from the outside, stood for a moment peering into the room, and then hopped down and strutted across the floor and out the door. Greg’s jaw was practically dragging the floor as his gaze followed the chicken out the door, and then slowly turned toward me. I said, “It was no dream Greg. A chicken hopped through that window ran across your chest, Bledi’s lap, and my legs and then out the door.” Greg shook his head slowly, and said remorsefully, “I don’t think I can do this. I just don’t think I can do this.” Actually Greg did a tremendous job the rest of the trip, but that chicken was a humorous source of culture stress for the both of us. I should point out that Bledi’s simple response with a casual shrug was to say, “We are in the country. What do you expect?”

That was the first and last time I have ever had a chicken run across my legs in the night. I did nearly get stepped on a few years later by a flock of sheep that were being moved out into the pasture at 4 o’clock in the morning. The guys on our team were sleeping out side under the stars. We didn’t realize that we had plopped down right on a sheep trail. The experience startled us, panicked the sheep, and nearly gave the shepherd a heart attack as he was unaware of our presence. By the time this happened, however, I had many village experiences under my belt, so this was just one more interesting story to look back and laugh about.

Sometimes culture stress can be serious, and should not be taken lightly. The first summer of our project in Albania a young American from the Southeast United States went out to the villages and returned to base camp a few days later only to lay on his mat flat on his back and stare at the ceiling all day. He was completely unresponsive to anyone who tried to talk to him. After two days he snapped out of it, got up and went back out into the villages and finished the project.

We all have to process the external stimuli that we are bombarded with everyday. How we process this stimuli can often be instantaneous, or it may take some time to get it all figured out. This processing is normal for anyone traveling to a different culture, and it will determine how we respond. It will determine how we interact with our host culture and its people. If we process incorrectly, or we process this new culture in our minds with preconceived prejudices we will almost always become offensive to our hosts. But if we can get passed the differences, and take a chance on embracing the new culture we can almost always come away with a wonderful life experience.

My next story will be along similar lines concerning culture stress with body language. God Bless you until next time!