I have been living in Albania for a year now. It seems so crazy. I honestly don’t feel like I’ve been here for a year. I think back to what I’ve seen, done and experienced and it’s hard to remember everything. So much has happened in so little time.
Of course there have been times of frustration as I’ve tried to fit in to the Albanian culture – especially not knowing any Albanian when I first arrived. Having so much to say to people and not having any idea how to say it (or ask questions) is so frustrating. And then having people ask you so many questions and you cannot understand a thing? That’s no fun either.
The most hardest part was probably building relationships with people. [Spoiler Alert] I am not a social butterfly by any means. Add lack of language to that and that is not at all what you need to make friendships. But Nicole and I helped push each other through. We sat through many awkward silences, embarrassing answers (sometimes we didn’t even know what we were saying while everyone laughed at our answers) and lots of broken Albanian phrases.
But as I think about where I was when I first started this journey in Albania one year ago, I can’t help but think about how far God has helped me come. The most frustrating part is now the most rewarding part. By no means do I claim to be fluent in the language in any way, shape or form, but I can now have conversations with people and while I don’t understand everything, nor can I communicate everything I want to, I do know enough of the language now to get to know people. To be able to have beyond surface level conversations.
It’s a beautiful thing because people have seen Nicole & I start with no Albanian and now, even our English speaking friends, speak more in Albanian to us than English as long as we are understanding everything. Which just goes to show how important it is to learn Albanian, their heart language.
To get to know people, to really get to know people, you have to speak their language. To discuss something as important as someone’s eternal destiny, speaking to them in their second language is not good enough. It means so much more when you can speak their heart language.
I am so thankful for the fact that our team realizes this and put a big emphasis on this when Nicole & I first arrived. It has been tremendous in helping us build relationships and earning the respect and trust of many people. For the first 6 months, we had individual language lessons 5 days a week, 2 hours a day, in addition to spending time in the community.
This, at times, was difficult too because we weren’t “working.” We wanted so bad to get involved in different ministries but looking back, I am so glad that we did not. I am so thankful for the 6 months of intensive language learning we had.
Last week, Nicole and I started a Bible study with some teen girls. In Albanian. Without the support of our team and the high value they placed on language at the beginning, we would not be at the point now, in our language, where we could do that.
When I first agreed to come over to Albania, I originally was looking at a 1 year commitment. And I can’t help but think what if I had only committed to 1 year. I would be leaving now instead of reaching the halfway point. True, two years is a long time to spend away from family and friends in the States but honestly, I could not imagine leaving right now.
I am just getting to the point where I can live life here without having to think about every single thing. (How do I get here, where can I find this, how can I do this, etc). Language, again, is huge. I can ask for most everything I need if I am at a store. I can communicate if I need help with something. I am just getting to the point where I can speak for the most part without having to think about every. single. word I’m saying.
I’m also just getting to the point where I can relax when I visit with people. I don’t have to worry about all the rules and traditions I have to do when I visit someone. I don’t have to worry about what to say or how to say something because now, for the most part, I can say what I want without having to think.
After a year, life is just now starting to come more naturally for me, with more doing and less thinking. Life in Albania is becoming normal for me. And I couldn’t imagine leaving now.
I can’t wait to see what happens during this next year. I have high hopes because I know I won’t have to spend so much time thinking like an Albanian or thinking about Albanian because I’m doing that without all the thinking now.