Murray and Fey

Visits and Forest Fires

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Along with much of the Balkans, Albania is experiencing a heatwave, with the temperatures between 38 – 42°C. We don’t have air-conditioning, so we close our house up at 9am in the mornings, and open it again around 9pm once the temperature drops to below 30°C. Last night when we opened the house up, it filled with the smell of smoke from the forest fires. 

On a very different note, Refika and her husband Çlirim (pronounced Chleereem) moved from Berat (near Poliçan) to Tirana early this year, and now live within about 10 mins walk from our place. Refika has been a Christian for about five years, along with three of their four adult children. After they moved, Refika contacted a friend who goes to our church, and since then she has been a regular member of our church and has joined Féy’s Bible study group.

One day about six weeks ago, she and her husband were out walking and bumped into Bujar and Shkëndia (good friends from our church). They started to talk about Bujar and Murray’s weekly visits to Poliçan and Çlirim asked if he could go with them. Refika was mortified that he had asked, and thought he would just go to meet with his friends and drink raki.

We all encouraged Refika that it would be fine for Çlirim to go, if not just because he would get to know Bujar and Murray during the two hour drive each way.

Çlirim did meet up with his friends on that visit, but only for a short time, and then he joined the Bible study group in Poliçan. He is now a regular member of the team that goes to Poliçan and is learning about the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian! He is an avid reader, and diligently does his homework in preparation for each study, and he now regularly attends the weekly church services. It is obvious that God is working, and his family are amazed at what is happening in his life.

The visits to Poliçan have finished for the month of August, and will resume in September. Please pray for plans for the coming new ‘academic’ year.

 

Encouragement in Albania

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We had three months travelling around New Zealand at the start of the year, beginning  in Auckland and going as far south as Dunedin. We especially enjoyed getting to know our grandchildren a bit better. It was also such a pleasure to be in New Zealand when our son Shaun proposed to Tiana. They plan to get married on the January 6, so we will be making another quick trip back to New Zealand for the occasion. 

It has been very encouraging returning to our church in Tirana, Albania, after three months away. Here’s some of those encouraging things:

New people. One of the first things we noticed was quite a number of new people that weren’t coming to church when we left. One family has moved to Tirana from Berat and are now living in our area, and have joined the church. Another woman lives near the church and recently became a Christian. The thing that we noticed most about her is how hungry she is to understand the Bible.

Bible study groups. Our Bible study groups continued while we were away, and both groups finished Book 1 in the Life of Christ series we began studying with them before we left, and now they are now ready to move on to Book 2. A new Bible study group is going to begin with the new church members.

A new vision. Erion, the pastor, has been praying about a new vision to develop the main church building into a ‘community centre.’ Here in Albania there’s not a lot for young people to do, so the vision is for a centre where they can go to learn or practice English, learn a musical instrument or just to hang out together with other Christians.

Outreach to Poliçan. Erion took the men to visit Poliçan regularly while Murray was away. They continued to build relationships with the group the men were meeting with, and Erion managed to develop some other relationships as well.

Welcome to David and Anne. Soon after Féy returned, our ECM team in Albania welcomed a new family from Germany. David, Anne and Leonora stayed with us for their first month while they found and prepared an apartment. David is a psychologist and Anne a midwife. A lot of people in Albania suffer from a lack of hope, both for themselves and their country. David and Anne’s vision is to use their training in connection to the church to help to develop hope. Their desire is to invest in youth and young families to help them practically, as well as help them find a new home in Jesus. For the next year or two, their focus will be on learning Albanian as they prepare to serve here in Albania.

From Albania and Back

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When we first wrote this our suitcases were half packed, and we are nearly ready to leave our home here in Albania for a few months. We’ve enjoyed the holiday season here in New Zealand and have now turned our attention to a couple of months of speaking engagements around the country.

Outreach to Poliçan

The highlight for Murray at the end of 2016 was supporting a men’s outreach from our church to the men in a town called Poliçan nearly three hours drive away. In our last newsletter we wrote: The men (in Tirana) have had a growing concern for the church in the hometown where many of them first became Christians. Murray is supporting their plans to visit Poliçan every few weeks, to encourage the men that still live there. The first visit will be on the 15th October. 

Most of these men became Christians many years ago, but for a variety of reasons they stopped meeting together. Since we last wrote, Murray and his team have visited Poliçan five times, and in total they are having contact with 12 different men. Each time they go they contact as many of the men as possible, and then meet with them over two days. They usually drive down on Friday afternoon, stay overnight and then come back on Saturday afternoon. On the most recent visit the men began a new Bible study series which they plan to continue while we are gone.

Tirana Bible Studies

In our church in Tirana we have continued our small Bible study groups. Murray has been discipling and studying the Bible with five men, however for a variety of reasons, he has particularly focused on the two in particular that are leading the outreach to Poliçan.

Féy has continued with a group of three women, and has seen them growing in their faith, and in their understanding of the Scriptures. She is encouraged that they are not dependent on her, but continued to meet and study together each week even when she has been away. Her other group of two women were finding it more difficult to meet regularly as one of them is was working long hours leading up to the New Year celebrations.

A number of other small groups began at the beginning of last year are struggling to keep traction. The biggest challenge has been from employer pressure to work long hours, which is hard not to do, when you know that there are 100 other people ready to take your job.

At the end of last year in church we acknowledged eleven church members who had finished Bible study courses over this past year.

Greek Short-term Team update

In November Féy planned to take a team of nine Albanians on a short-term mission trip to Athens to work alongside a Greek church that has a significant ministry to immigrants. As often happens here in Albania, the make up of the team changed by the day leading up to their departure, with a 75% turnover in team members. She ended up with a group of four (instead of nine) Albanian guys on the team, aged 21, 26 and two who are 52. Féy was a bit concerned as to how it would go leading a group of guys (especially two being in their 50’s), but it was a great team.

After the uncertain start (changing team members and having to leave on a bus 12 hrs later than planned), everyone had a really positive experience. It was good watching the team as they were challenged by different discussions, and the things they saw and experienced.

Over the week we experienced three different styles of church services and took part in two feeding ministries (giving meals to people hit by the financial crisis). The guys also got to hang out with homeless men who came to the church centre for showers or just to have a coffee and game of dominoes. The poor community in Athens are very international, and came from all walks of life. We also had some quality discussions with a local Greek pastor, an Albanian church leader, and an Albanian missionary (his wife is American) about the situation here in Athens.

As a result of their experiences and discussions, all the team members were inspired and challenged, and we have heard that there has already been an immediate impact and change in their ministries here in Albania. However, a lasting impression the team did not expect to experience was the lack of hope they saw in many of the people they met with in Greece.

One of the reason’s Féy took a team to Greece was because ECM is looking for ways to support the evangelical churches in Greece. She was able to follow up on some important contacts in Athens, and the plan now is for the ECM International Leadership Team to hold one of their meetings in 2017 in Athens. So from many perspectives it was a very successful trip.

A busy few months

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Time has flown these last few months and so much has happened. Here’s a month by month account of what’s we’ve been up to.

June overview

At the beginning of June, Féy attended her first International Leadership Team (ILT) meeting for ECMI. The ILT gathers twice a year to assist and support the International Director in providing the essential direction for and coordination of the various spheres of operation of ECMI. Féy appreciated being part of this group, and having the opportunity to grapple with a variety of issues ranging from opening new Fields (Greece & Malta), developing new partnerships, and candidate & member issues.

During the last week of June we both went to Macedonia to facilitate ‘Prayer Days’ for the ECM missionaries in Albania, Kosovo and this year the Bulgaria team joined us. 16 adults and 13 children gathered together for three days. The kids had a ball in their programme, and the adults really appreciated the opportunities they had together to learn, pray and get to know one another better.

July Overview

In July Murray and I visited the ECM missionaries in Bulgaria that we have been caring for over the past year. The drive to Sofia is about nine hours, but we were able to break the journey to explore Skopje (Macedonia), which we really enjoyed.

After our return we enjoyed some visits from a number of New Zealanders who were travelling through Albania. In between our travel and visitors we both continued to meet regularly with church members, and especially our small Bible study groups. We also enjoyed meeting up with our ECM team members at the swimming pool when the temperature rose to around 40°.

August Overview

During the first week of August Féy flew off to Portugal to teach at the ‘Foundations’ Course, which is designed to help missionaries after they have been on the Field for around a year. This time we had 11 adults and 11 children, and they were from Australia, The Netherlands, and Brazil, and were working in Spain, Germany, Portugal, Croatia and Bulgaria, which made for an interesting group.

Shortly after that a team of eight young Americans arrived to serve in our church for a few months. Murray has had a role with their orientation, and setting them on their way to build relationships in our neighbourhood, with the goal to run an English speaking ‘Christianity Explained’ course towards the end of their time. They have made some  contacts, and the course will began a few weeks ago.

September Overview

September was a busy month of travel, especially for Féy. It began with another trip to Bulgaria for both of us. Féy then went to Ukraine to teach at another Foundations Course for 17 Ukrainians who joined ECM at the beginning of the year after another organisation merged with ECM. One of the main ministries the Ukrainian folk are involved in is supporting Christian families who have adopted children out of the orphanages. Over the past 12 years they have had a part in over 500 children being adopted.

After just two days at home, Féy took to the air again to visit the missionaries in Romania. She facilitated Prayer Days in Sibiu for all the missionaries, and then took part in discussions about new ministry partnerships the missionaries are developing.

 

Church Ministry update

Over the summer we continued to be encouraged with our discipleship groups, and the growth we see in a number of people. Some of the men that Murray has been working are showing real leadership potential. One of them, along with his wife recently join the (re-structured) church leaders meeting.

The men have had a growing concern for the church in the hometown where many of them first became Christians. Murray is supporting their plans to visit every few months, to encourage the men that still live there.

 

Greek Short-term Team

From 12 – 20 November Féy is taking a team of nine Albanians on a short-term mission trip to Athens to serve alongside the 2nd Evangelical Greek Church, which has a significant ministry to refugees and to many Albanians. It is hoped that through this project, not only will the ministries of the Greek church be supported (many of their ministries function because of short-term teams), but that the team members will experience God at work in other people’s lives, and in their own lives.The weekly ministry will include about 20 hours a week of scheduled activities, as well as more hours of building relationships by visiting people in their homes, tutoring kids, and doing bible studies.

ECMI recently approved ‘opening’ a field in Greece, and they are currently seeking personnel to work in Greece at the invitation of the Greek church. After Féy was appointed as the contact person for ECMI in Greece, and hearing of the opportunity for short term ministry, the idea of taking a team from Albania took shape.

Coming months

We will be in New Zealand from the middle of December, initially taking our annual leave with our family. Then we will be spending two months catching up with as many people as we can, and will be speaking in churches in Nelson, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Before we head to NZ, Féy has a trip to Croatia, another ILT meeting in the UK, the short-term team visit to Greece and then will go to Germany for annual leaders meeting as well as a week of training in Cognitive Coaching. Murray will visit the team in Bulgaria, and both of us will visit the team in Kosovo a couple of times.

Churches and Canyons

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This past month six people were baptised at church, we visited some amazing canyons in Albania, and Féy had a quick trip to Gloucester. We’re currently away in Macedonia for our annual Prayer Days. This year two new ECM families in Bulgaria will be joining us for the first time. Our Prayer Days are a time to be refreshed in the Word , to worship together, and also to share and pray together with one another. There will be 13 adults in our group, and then 15 children and three children’s workers in the kids & teens groups.

Just over a week ago our church held a baptism service, and six people were baptised. They were an interesting group of people: an ex-prisoner & drug addict, three family members of a prisoner, a solo mum and a teenager. It was a joy to celebrate with them, so please join with us in praying for them all.

All but one of the discipleship groups that started up in the New Year have continued, however now that summer is here (the temp has been between 34°-38° this week), it is harder for people to be motivated to meet regularly.

A couple of weeks ago we went with some church members to a town called Poliçan to join in the celebrations of the church’s 20th anniversary. While there we realised we were in a beautiful part of Albania that we had not been to before. We then had the opportunity to go back later that week with some church members who grew up in that area to explore the amazing canyons.

A couple of weeks ago Féy went to Gloucester in the UK for the ECM International Leadership Meetings, which she found very stimulating and encouraging.

Please pray for

The six people who were baptised The discipleship groups over summer Our Prayer Days this week For safe travel to Bulgaria between the July 9 – 13

Croatia visit

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In April we spent just over three weeks in Croatia. One week was spent at the European Christian Mission (ECM) biennial conference, where we gathered with 450 adults and children for a week of teaching fun, and fellowship. For both of us the week was also a great way to meet with and have face-to-face conversations with the different ECM leaders, and for Féy to connect with the missionaries she works with in her ECM roles. Week two was spent relaxing after the biennial on the Croatian Island of Krk in a lovely little apartment owned by friends. During the third week we visited all the ECM missionaries working in Croatia. In total, including the drive from Albania to Croatia and back, we drove 2400km.

Fey’s work within the ECM leadership team has a number of aspects. One of those is building relationships with missionaries and Field Leaders in Croatia Austria, and Romania. Driving to the Biennial gave Féy the opportunity to do this in Croatia as it was very convenient to take time to do that on the way to and from the conference. Another aspect of Féy’s work, for which I heard a lot of positive feedback, has been (with a team) reviewing all the projects across ECM and reworking the different project request forms. Her work is valued, and as a result Féy was recently asked to join the ECM International Leadership Team (ILT), and her first meeting will be in the UK in June. Thankfully she copes well with being the only female (see photo) in meetings.

 

Disciples who make Disciples

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When we started working with the ‘Church of God’ here in Tirana, there were no small discipleship groups within the church. In December I started one with the young couple leading the church plant (training the trainers), then soon after Féy started discipling a solo mum. Because Féy travels a lot, she asked two other women to join her so they could lead when she is away. In February I started a men’s group (with men my age!), and just last month Féy was asked to lead another two women in a Bible study. In January the young couple, with whom I began with, started doing a Bible study with another couple in the church, and the pastor also started doing a Bible study with two small groups.

I know it sounds like a competition but we are so encouraged at seeing our ‘influence’ catch and ignite something so basic and simple, yet so life giving for a church. Groups have continued to form, and there  are now 10 small groups, with a total of 28 people studying the Bible most weeks. Some of those people are now beginning to serve in other areas of the church.

The leadership team don’t have the time to begin more groups (they all work full time outside the church), so the next challenge is to develop the next level of leaders and to help them to understand that they can do what we are doing; making disciples. This is happening ‘within’ the church. What will happen when we all take this ‘message’ outside the church.  Please pray for this to happen.

New Home and New Ministries

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When we wrote our last update in October, we had just finalised our new church plant partnership and had found a new house to rent. Now, a few months later we have moved in, furnished our new home (our previous places have been furnished), and are now starting to feel settled in our new neighbourhood.

We have also begun to contribute to the ministries in both the mother church and the church plant. Along with attending the regular weekly meetings we have been mostly focused on getting to know who everyone is, and have started to visit or meet with different people as the opportunity arises. In particular we have been getting to know the young couple we are working with in the church plant, and Murray has begun doing a Bible study with them each week in preparation for them to do the same with others in the future.

We are particularly enjoying having people come to our home for meals, which is something that we have not done much of in the past few years. Over the Christmas weekend it was a joy to have nearly 20 people sitting around our table at different times.

 

Meet the team

Erion and Gena lead the mother church. Gena is kept busy with their six year old son Abi, and three week old daughter Lois. Erion is bivocational and gets his income by working full time for the Prison Ministry, and as a consequence many of the members of the church are either former in-mates, or have family members in prison. Erion is also a gifted musician – you can listen to his latest song using the words from Romans 11:33-36 here.

Elton and Mariana lead the church plant. Elton is a ‘jack of all trades’ and it looks like he’s just found a good job. His role in the church is voluntary. Mariana has nearly completed her Social Work degree and is praying for work where she can use her new qualifications. Their daughter Ema is two years old.

 

Baby Ambrose

Féy arrived in Wellington in perfect time just hours after the arrival of baby Ambrose, our latest grandchild. She will be with them for the next few weeks. We are so delighted to have a new grandson!

A new church partnership

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Murray and I are pleased to say we have begun partnering with the Kisha e Perendise (Church of God) church and church plant in a densely populated suburb called Mëzez, on the outskirts of Tirana. We will be working with Erion and his wife Gena, and Elton and his wife Mariana. Erion is the pastor of the older church (planted eight years ago), which is at one end of suburb, and Elton (and Mariana) are leading the new church plant on the other side of the neighbourhood. The four of them form the basis of the leadership team for both churches, and are in their mid 30’s, and are bivocational. Consequently they are not able to work in the church full-time and need help – especially with the new church.

They have asked us to do four things:

Join their leadership team for regular monthly meetings. Meet regularly with Elton and Mariana in a mentoring relationship. Disciple the older folk from both churches. There are around ten older people (men and women) who come to one of the churches, but culturally it is difficult for people in their 30’s to disciple people of older generations. Murray to help in the church plant – however we are yet to work out the specifics of what this will look like.

We feel that we have a reasonable understanding of their church situation, leadership style, struggles, and what they want/need from us and how we can support and work alongside them. We confirmed that we will work with them, and will review the situation in a year.

 

September road trips

In September we went on a Balkan road trip from Albania to Kosovo, then through Macedonia to Bulgaria (Sofia & Burgas on the Black Sea) and on to Romania (Vanju Mare & Timisoara), and then back to Albania via Serbia and Kosovo.

The purpose of the trip was to support a new missionary family in Bulgaria, and then for Féy to meet with other ECM missionaries in each of those countries to encourage them and discover more about their ministries.

It was an intense two weeks, covering 2810 kms and meeting with 10 different people/couples/families who are involved in ministries ranging from anti-traffiking, church planting, a halfway house for single mothers, translating and publishing, children’s summer camps, pastoral support for pastors, and training.

This last weekend Féy also flew up to Austria for four nights to meet the missionaries in Austria and to attend the Austrian teams Prayer Days.

Church Planting in Albania

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Murray has been partnering in the Shalom Church for the past two and half years, along with Féy (very part time) and Kent & Angie Morton (for the past year). The highlight of those years was witnessing nine people growing in their faith, and then get baptised last September. However, after the baptisms, Valbona took over more of the leadership and decision making, as she feels that the church has been planted. As our involvement and input steadily reduced, we realised that it was time our involvement came to end, and at the end of May we had our last official service with them.

Our time in the Shalom church has borne fruit, and we have learnt a lot about working within the context of a small local church. We plan to continue to meet with the church members as opportunity allows.

We are now exploring and seeking another Albanian church to partner with in church planting, and have already had some encouraging conversations. Please pray for clear direction, and wisdom as we set up a new mutually beneficial partnership to help plant and strengthen Albanian churches.

 

Féy’s Dad

During the first week of June, while at a week long training course in the beautiful Tyrol mountains in Austria, we received news that my dad had been admitted to hospital. On Wednesday we heard that he had had a very rough night, and that they had nearly lost him. For two days there seemed to be some hope and chance of recovery as they pumped him full of antibiotics and other drugs. For a number of reasons we made the decision not to travel to NZ at that point. We hoped and prayed for Dad to recover, but sadly Dad passed away peacefully on the Friday evening in the presence of my mum, my younger brother, our four children and three other grandchildren. We were able to come to NZ for a memorial service with family on July 4 and we will be here a couple of weeks to support my mum and move her into her new house before returning to Albania. Thank you very much for your thoughts and prayers.