Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. ~ Psalm 62:5
Academic year 2017-18 is complete, praise the Lord! That is genuine worship by the way. Someone asked me if I’ve had a good year and I realized that if my students have had a good year, I must generally agree with them. I think I’ve witnessed some real learning in the classroom, and genuine curiosity about subject material. It helps that they were already highly motivated to perform well: I have not yet required the long-suffering, good-teacher skill of routinely rousing students’ energy and focus and hard work ethic. Ironically, I and my fellow teachers have had to be champions of work-life balance, helping students to keep their eye on the prize of Christ rather than success for success’ sake.
I’m still blown away by the high productivity of the last few weeks my classes had in preparation for AP exams. (My Pre-calculus class also worked very hard, good job guys!) I was there when my AP Physics students came out of the AP exam feeling very optimistic about their scores—stating that the practice really helped, which is about the most that I could have asked for. Thank you for your many prayers for these kiddos and for my sanity! It is wonderful when you get to see the fruit of prayer, and you are a part of the team here.
Refusing a third “first year” I have made sure that I will not be teaching any new courses next year. Per GDQ’s needs, they’re having me swap out AP Physics for Business Math, which I already took a crack at last year. Coincidentally, this will also likely lighten my load. And recasting Business Math as a Personal Finance class—or what I prefer to call the “Money Class”—is something I can get excited about too. So, all in all I expect next year to have a much more easily achievable work-life balance! Let’s face it, I’m kinda burnt out, but I look forward to going at it again next year with the fabulous team that God has assembled here…after I’ve rested a little this summer. In that vein, I hope to see as many of you as I can while Stateside. Lord willing, I’ll be on the East Coast between June 20 and August 15 before I return for Academic year 2018-19.
Thank you for sticking with me, even as I’ve struggled to keep you posted on happenings over here this year. Your prayers are bearing fruit, and I covet your warm wishes and friendship. It was never clear what I was hoping to achieve exactly, moving to Albania—let alone what God intends through my efforts and experiences here. But regardless of his hidden purposes, it is clear that this journey has been one of building people up. I witness progress in many directions, and it is a treasure to see so many others on their own trajectories with the Lord. I have faith struggles just like everyone else. There are still selfish and frustrated parts of my heart that I take with me as I proceed through this story, but despite this I know that Christ is the author of my faith. While I tap away at a keyboard telling you about my experiences, his Spirit continues to shift and move and multi-task beyond our imagination. I put my hope in his promises, and I pray that my experiences can help encourage you to do the same. Hope to see you soon!
Hello! This crazy school year is coming to a close soon, but there are still some very critical weeks ahead before things start winding down. It feels like I’m coming up for air briefly to request prayer and update you fine folks about my work here.
We’re close to having our full staff roster together for next year—at least that’s how it seems—and I now know who is and isn’t returning. Basically, all my peers will be here again, but we’ll be missing a few veterans. Please pray for us all as we work hard to finish out the year. We have our battles, with external circumstances and issues as well as the daily struggle to let the Spirit lead. I pray that we will be able to model contentment and hardy faith to our students and that they will be able to take their cue from our example. My time with my friends here has remained consistently positive and encouraging even though I’m sort of always bedraggled under my heavy teacher workload. I’m very grateful for my friendships here.
The responsibility of preparing my AP Physics students for the big external exam continues to demand a lot of energy. The curriculum is so demanding, in fact, that I’m having to relegate necessary cumulative review to outside of class even as I rush to finish all the content during normal class hours. It is incredible how much these students have to learn and process, and they are doing a stupendous job. But boy I’m tired. In the past month we have covered almost one textbook chapter a week—edited and arranged by yours truly. Please pray that the students would watch our King put things together in unexpected ways to prepare them for the exam on May 8. They have learned a lot, and that is probably plenty reward already. But I would love it for God to honor their hard work with a pleasant ending to the year. All that said, this stressful season is an excellent opportunity for myself and the students to trust God and his provision, with a good attitude and a mature life balance. Easier said than done, but we’re attempting it. Just a few more weeks to go!
To wrap for now: my other two classes are going along swimmingly, far as I can see, and there have been no huge crises in any other categories apart from one bad medical situation for a missionary couple we’re acquainted with here. That situation looks to be resolved for now. Wonderfully, they have since moved to the place for which they’ve been preparing these past two years. Meanwhile, I have not had another anomalous swelling episode since last I updated you, praise God! I have a sneaky suspicion it may be a reaction to Ibuprofen, and I will probably test that theory after things have settled down a little bit academically.
Thank you for all your prayers and for your patience with me as I struggle to keep the lines of communication open in this super-busy year. Next year looks to be much more manageable, Lord willing. Please think of us over here as you pray these next few weeks. I hope to send another update later in May or early June.
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. ~ Hebrews 12:11-13
Actually the time hasn’t exactly flown, but it has been very full. Apologies for not sending an update sooner; the heavy-duty workload I spoke about last fall has persisted, and even the Christmas holiday was terrifically busy, though fun and meaningful. Much has occurred over the past three months (!) since my last letter of course, and I’ll try to summarize life with some highlights and pictures. But first I want to cut to the chase and give you the present situation. As of a couple Mondays ago I have decided to renew my contract with GDQ for yet another year! I had to think and pray about this, especially since this “second first year” teaching new classes again has been very challenging, even more than last year. I don’t think I can afford a “third first year”. The plan going forward is for me to only teach repeat classes for 2018-2019, and I’ve received assurances that even alternate plans do not include my teaching new courses. I am relieved by this, and I look forward to a year in which the hairy red line between hard work and burnout is pushed back into the world of extra-curricular responsibilities and not a hazard of simply covering necessary curriculum. More than that: I look forward to having more time and energy to consciously grow in faith pursing and enjoying Christ in his world and in his work. Metaphorically speaking, a little less Martha, a little more Mary (Luke 10:38-42).
That’s the plan for next year. There’s still plenty to struggle through and hope for between now and summer. My AP classes have kept a steady pace, but I’m trying to press the gas even as I continue to parse through instructor resources and build unit plans. The students have been one of the biggest blessings this year, jumping into the subject material, asking engaging questions, and working hard at home to keep pace with the subject material. I’m glad that the external AP exams are not the sole prize here: the students are learning all sorts of lessons like study habits, technical writing skills, and more. One of my favorite complaints from my AP Physics students is how their view of reality has been transformed by their new knowledge of forces, acceleration, inertia, etc. They tell me they can’t open a door without thinking about torque and rotational mechanics. I tell them their exasperation warms my heart. Even though I am disappointed by how little I am able to interact with my students outside of class, I am grateful for the connections that I do have. Please pray for fortitude and perseverance as we all press on through second semester with our various tasks.
There is too much dust in the air and confusion in my own heart to consider clearly where life is headed in the coming months and years. Sometimes the narrow vision implied by “lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path” feels okay; sometimes it can be maddeningly painful. But as things progress I am grateful for the many blessings that are clearly in view (and I guess the ones that are unseen too—that’s the challenge!). My sense of companionship here has been at least as good as it was last year, and God has faithfully continued to provide much needed friendship. It’s an interesting time of year as letters of intent for next year are made public one after another. To my relief I get to keep a lot of my friends here, but we’ll be losing some to changing life seasons. We also get to watch God fill certain logistical and strategic holes that have appeared. Exciting times I suppose. Pray for GDQ as we continue to try to meet the needs here in this part of the world, and for us staff as we continue to offer ourselves for Christ’s service.
My health has remained mostly good, but somewhat iffy. The anomalous angioedema (fancy word for swelling) I suffered from in late October continued to hit me periodically through the holiday season. Now I can add tongue swelling in the middle of the night to the list, which is cause for some concern. So far I have not asphyxiated to death, and I have been provided a couple epi-pens. Additionally, my parents brought some heavy duty prescription antihistamine with them for their Christmas visit, which has proven effective. If I can keep the swelling down to once-a-month intervals until summer then maybe I can chase this problem more while on furlough in the States—I have little expectation for a sound diagnosis and am hoping for it to mostly just go away. Please pray for the removal of this mysterious health burden, and for me to not slip into the sarcastic grumpiness that has become characteristic of how I express frustration and fear.
Thank you for your faithful support of me as I adventure over here in Albania. It’s a debt that I won’t be able to personally pay back, but I hope that our King will use my words and experiences to bless you back richly in ways none of us can imagine. Let me know if there’s anything for which I can pray for you. I’ll be in touch as things begin to warm up.
He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. ~Psalm 107:7-9
Greetings from Albania! It’s been a little over two months since I returned here for a second year of teaching. Frankly speaking, I’ve had a rather grueling time getting two new classes planned and sorted as I go, but God has faithfully supplied the energy and encouragement to push through into the school year. Most of the challenge has been adjusting to the rigorous AP Physics curriculum, as was expected. Hopefully, now on the other side of our weeklong fall break, things will have gotten into a more manageable groove, and I can hope that the 70-80 hour work week crisis mode will be behind me for a while. Prayers for efficient use of time and decent sleep are appreciated!
On top the fatigue and long hours, it’s no surprise that I’ve spent some weeks under the weather. Last year I never took a sick day, and I’ve already taken two so far. Special prayer is appreciated for a strange new series of allergic reactions that has happened several times in recent weeks in which my lips and fingers have swelled in different places. Twice I’ve had to get an IV antihistamine injection. They’ll want to run tests , but I’m doubtful we’ll find the cause; I’m just hoping that episodes of diminishing severity indicate whatever this is is on its way out! Throughout all of this I remain deeply grateful for the wonderful support and encouragement I receive daily and weekly from my friends here, including the students themselves—this is meaningful work, and there’s a lot of love and care to go around in our community.
Despite the ferocious time sink of planning for new classes, it has been arguably a good start to another school year. Some faces from last year are gone, but in their places are new friends and dedicated co-workers with the same passion to equip these students and live out Christ’s love. One significant change this year is having my GDQ colleague Kyle join Sajmir and myself in our apartment (they share a room and I pay more rent). In many ways this is a reunion, because Kyle and Sajmir were housemates the year before I arrived. In fact, we have a new hub in the apartment building where I live, sort to speak, with three units housing GDQ people close together, including my new boss Len and his wife Betsy, who’ve already had us all over for a game of Settlers of Catan. Please pray for those two as they continue to adjust to a new country and culture. They’re already experienced veterans of overseas work with their own MK’s all grown up, but I’m sure this move is a lot to adjust to, especially in a place of leadership.
For fall break, back in October, several of us piled into a van and toured much of former Yugoslavia, driving north through Montenegro, much of the Croatian coast, up through Slovenia (with a bonus day in the Austrian alps), then back down through inland Croatia and Bosnia, visiting the city of Sarajevo on the way home. It was a fun and eye-opening experience, and I now feel like I know the region that surrounds me much better. The legacy of heartbreak and loss is heavy in some places of this civilizational crossroads, and the menace of future heartbreak seems noticeable. In many ways it was a good reminder of why we are here. Please pray for peace in the Balkans and surrounding regions, and for open hearts to consider God’s heart for the nations.
The trip was valuable and fun, but it hardly provided the rest and logistical catchup that I need. At the beginning of break Kathy, our de-facto TeachBeyond leader here, forwarded a very apropos email about the difference between good tired and dangerous tired leading to burnout. Most of the academic year is still ahead of us, and I need to pace myself better. And, despite my trying to focus on my present tasks and God’s present provisions (and eternal promises), the question of whether to commit for a third year looms. I reflected to a friend recently that I have a history of working very hard, “unto the Lord”, then struggling to see what I would call worthwhile fruit. In this pattern my faith and obedience are tested. Please pray against the temptation to resent my current life trajectory: I have so much to be thankful for, but the enemy knows where to press me. Sometimes it can be difficult to simply chill and trust God—a skill I thought I had developed over the years but struggle with now. Peace with my own sense of place would do wonders.
Quarter 2 is upon us. I certainly hope to get another update or two out before Christmas/New Years. Thank you again for all your support, prayers, and friendship. My cup runs over, and you’re part of that extravagant love I receive from our good King. May he be known more and more over here!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits… ~ Psalm 103:1-2
Here we are again with a week of summer left before I fly out to Albania! It’s been a busy time back on the East Coast, and it’s flown by as quickly as I anticipated. Much of the time has been spent working on curriculum for next year as well as a fair bit of networking (with many of you!). Happily, my sister has been able to capitalize on opportunities to hang out and participate in my summer schedule, and I’ve had some solid family time. Not too long ago, Emily accompanied me down to Blacksburg where I gave a report to a church committee and met with a couple ol’ friends from college days. It can easily become a wistful, even melancholy experience visiting there given the trajectory of the past ten years. Needless to say, I was cheered by Emily’s company. The trip and activity did take its toll, however, and we returned home with her heart condition badly aggravated. (Going on two years now with her onset of “POTS”.) …This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.
I had the pleasure of seeing a bunch of old friends while I was back up in the Philadelphia area for a week taking an AP Summer Institute class to prepare for teaching AP Physics. Networking with my old community in such a short time left me feeling kind of like God was playing Tetris with my daily planner, packing every day with solid school prep and meaningful visits. I’ve even visited with out-of-state friends whose schedules aligned perfectly for a meeting. I am indeed grateful for my many contacts and friends and the layered chapters of life that God has given to me so far, though these experiences over the years have come with a pretty fluid sense of home; even for this Xennial, my transient sense of belonging can be disorienting sometimes. As grateful as I am for my friendships, I think I’m even more grateful for the hope of one day having one home in Christ’s Kingdom, whatever that may look like. It’s good for the heart to reflect, as I have with others a couple times over here in the States, that all of these brothers and sisters in Christ will indeed get to meet each other—even if they’re currently separated by oceans and different languages and a lifetime of experiences.
For those of you who are curious, it is true: I’m teaching another AP class in addition to AP Calculus this coming year—and AP Physics 1 will be a humdinger. I’m still scrambling to get a first cut of the unit plan and list of lab experiments and equipment to bring. Textbooks are coming in (including those of others’ classes), and at least the external logistics are coming together. In all I’ll be teaching three classes: AP Calculus for the second time, AP Physics 1 for the first time, and Pre-Calculus (a.k.a. Trigonometry and then some) for the first time. It’s a robust load for me and it will probably require constant planning this coming year, but with God’s help we can do this. Thank you for your prayers for personnel—recruiting didn’t exactly go as planned, but we’re making it work to fit the students’ needs.
I’m still getting finances officially in order. So far, factoring in some reserves from last year and expressly stated confirmation of continued support next year, I am 60% funded with a slightly altered budget. I am still looking to raise about $670/mo. If you have decided to help support me financially for this second year it would be helpful for budgeting purposes if you indicate by email or a phone call if you plan to do so. Let me know if you have any questions. There are a number of you with whom I still need to follow-up personally, but I rarely get around to directly asking for financial support since I’m usually content to simply share what is going on and find out how my supporters are doing themselves. If I haven’t interacted with you directly yet, expect a phone call or an email from me soon!
I fly back to Albania August 15. That gives me a week to finish last minute preparation for curriculum Stateside where teaching resources (especially physics lab equipment) is most readily available. Please pray that I complete all the necessary tasks preparing for teaching this year!
We have some new staff joining us this year, including some new administrative staff like my new boss and head of high school, Len. He, his wife, and others will need prayer support as they adapt to a new setting with unexpected challenges.
Please pray for our students: the ones who have moved on to other locations on the globe (including college) and all those returning for another year at GDQ. I hope to be a better teacher than I was last year and to be more involved in their day-to-day lives. This will be a challenge since I will be very busy planning for new classes again.
Thank you all so much for your continued support, prayers, and friendship. You do not realize how encouraging it is to have a loving base like you. I’ve attached some photos from the summer, but unfortunately I lost nearly all my July photos when I inadvertently did a factory reset on my phone to get the screen working again—crazy!!
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
School is out, summer has begun, and so have the many farewells that happen this time of year in this international setting. Many of the goodbyes will only last a couple months until next year, but a significant number will not be returning. Life on this globe is full of transition of course, but this is intense. I am humbled by the all the families, teachers, and administrators here who willingly repeat this cycle of departure year after year, all for their love of God and his not-yet children here in Albania. As my cousin says, most goodbyes are temporary and a simple matter of furlough or summer break, but the hard goodbyes happen when loved ones don’t plan to return. The end of this year marks some very significant hard goodbyes including my cousins’ eldest son going off to college, a very close ministry partner who is getting married and moving to another country, and the departure of GDQ’s K-12 director. **Please pray for my cousins and those like them as they process these major changes. I have only lived here a year and I am experiencing the pangs of losing some good teacher friends who won’t be here next year, including this year’s social studies teacher, Quentin, who lived with his wife and kids in the apartment next door. I’ll miss those bike ride commutes and fun and fascinating conversations that happened almost daily at school. **Please pray for Quentin as he transitions with his family to Texas; praise God he received a job offer exactly one minute before his family landed on the tarmac!
After the long gauntlet of external exams and semester finals, the high school switched gears to student internships leaving the actual building very quiet, aside from frequent administrative meetings and discussions about revisions to handbook policy. “Activity week” is the final week leading up to graduation, in which teachers and students go on several field trips and participate in various community services. This unique phase of the academic calendar seems to be a productive way of handling the problematic timing of all the IGCSE and AP external exams, and it probably helps the students transition into their especially chaotic international summer experience. **Please pray for these kids: for those heading off to university or a “gap year” and for those who plan on returning to GDQ in the fall, that Christ would vividly hold onto their hearts these next two months as they make various transitions. And for those students who don’t believe, that Christ would vividly grab their hearts soon. I am grateful for the privilege of teaching them, having poignantly felt that honor during the graduation ceremony.
I fly back to Virginia in a few hours. In some ways, the time Stateside will probably feel like hitting the pause button on life, but I know God keeps working and changing the environment on us. I am learning the importance of looking to him expectantly and hopefully, the giver of good gifts who loves to surprise his children. For my part, I must keep busy. I still need to fund raise for my second year, but I expect the lion’s share of my summer work will consist of preparing for new classes. **Praise God, it looks likely that we have a new recruit who will be able to share the math teaching load at the high school, preventing an untimely death of yours truly—but please pray for confirmation of this! If you are going to be in the Virginia/Pennsylvania area between now and mid-August drop me line; I hope to get in a number of fun visits catching up with friends and family, and I would love to see you. **Finally, please pray for rest and rejuvenation for myself and my teammates; many of us need it, some more than others. For myself, despite the full and productive season I’ve had here—which is in large part thanks to you all!—God has allowed this season to also be one in which trusting him has been particularly difficult and taxing. For all of us who claim to trust God, I pray that he will allow us to take real pleasure in our first love: Him. For those of you who support me in love and friendship but don’t share my faith, thank you for your care, and you know you can ask me anytime about who drives me to come out here. I’ll be in touch.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” ~Hebrews 12:28-29
…Wherein Nate summarizes the experience of the lion’s share of the Spring semester at GDQ and expresses the anticipation of wrapping things up before the start of summer craziness coming in six or so weeks…
Mirë dita (good day)! Thanks for your patience with my newsletter; rest assured that things have been busy and productive over here in Tirana these past two-and-a-half months. We’re in the home stretch of the academic year, and I’m already thinking about what next year holds. I still find it interesting how God pulled me out of an engineering cubicle, through a year of seminary, and into a high school classroom, all ostensibly for his glory. No matter how far off my originally intended path, I must trust that I am on the path that he has always wanted for me. It feels less and less like a long detour, but some confusion and bemusement certainly persist. For now, if I don’t focus on God’s sufficiency for present tasks, I’ll get lost wondering about the future.
Spring and cottonwood are in the air, and our students are anxiously and hurriedly completing their studies and tests to close out the academic year. A number of the seniors have already been accepted into universities, and some are in the middle of making final choices—my cousin included. The high school teachers are scrambling just as much making sure our units finish well as we alternate between lessons and proctoring large standardized tests from Cambridge, England and Advanced Placement (AP) exams. I myself got to supervise the U.S. History AP exam this past Friday for a solid four hours. In two weeks, the high schoolers will finish normal semester exams to cap off their class grades and then spend two weeks in various internships before the official end-of-year and graduation on June 9. Lower and middle school have normal class for the remainder of this month, but given the chaotic environment of the high school I’m not sure which I would prefer! Please pray for all our students to finish the year well and to make wise decisions as they move forward.
We skipped the rainy season this winter somehow. I was well prepared with my Colombia gear, including rain pants and water-proof shoes for biking, but I’ve hardly needed these. Most of the days here consist of a very regular routine of biking to school, teaching, grading, and late nights planning—the life of a first-year teacher I suppose. The process of subsisting from lesson plan to lesson plan has remained pretty constant, and I hope to benefit from this hard work next year with more time to intentionally invest in relationships with friends and students. As an American, I feel the pressure of living in another culture daily, but any discomfort is more than countered by the warmth and acceptance I experience from my Albanian friends here—in and outside of GDQ. I imagine the cultural strain would be much harder if I were not a man, and my respect for the women here—expat and Albanian—increases from week to week.
Various highlights have punctuated the normal Spring semester schedule such as spirit week at the high school, Summer Day (harvest related), and the grand opening of the newly renovated open market a couple blocks away from my apartment. My friends and I even got to glimpse the prime minister of Albania as he came out to give the commemoration speech. I’ve also gotten out of the city a few times during breaks including two trips to Lake Orhid bordering neighboring Macedonia and a four-day trip to Rome during spring break! For brevity, I’ll relegate those experiences to captioned pictures for your viewing pleasure 🙂
The high schoolers need special prayer support these next two weeks as they complete their exams, in some cases for potential college credit. Christopher takes his AP Calculus test on Tuesday, which is what we have been preparing for all year! I’m pretty confident he’ll get a 5 (top score), but prayers are appreciated!
We give God thanks and praise for filling the administrative roster for next year! We’re bringing in a veteran missionary school administrator to head the middle school and high school grades. And we have someone coming in from the GDQ community to head up Kindergarten through 6th grade. We’re happy to have Lori Neuman continue as interim K-12 director, but GDQ is still looking for a long-term replacement for her starting the 2018-2019 school year.
THIS IS THE BIG ONE FOR ME AT THE MOMENT…My own experience teaching next year is likely tied to the outcome of this year’s recruitment efforts. With the current high-school math teacher finishing out her three-year commitment here, I am slated to take on at least two of her classes. We are hoping and praying for a science/math teacher hybrid who can share some of that load so that I don’t die. (Once again, if you’re interested in the details you can look at the specific needs listed here: http://www.gdqschool.org/opportunities/staff-openings/.)
Thank you again for all your support, prayer, financial, and otherwise. I plan to get another good update out before I return home a little over a month from now. In the meantime feel free to contact me via email or Facebook if you want to hear more or let me know how I can be praying for you. Blessings!
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ~Titus 3:5-7
Happy New Year folks! (Ge-‘zoo-ar ‘vee-tin ee ray) [Edit: I had the wrong translation originally!] Before I spend any prose illustrating the past two months of life, I want to get one bit of BIG NEWS out of the way, and that is that **I’ve decided to stay on for a second year serving GDQ in Tirana, Albania!!** I did not make this decision lightly, but after a season of prayer, trusted council, and personal worship (Scripture devotions and the like) it became clearly apparent that remaining over here to serve for this next upcoming year is the faithful choice for me. I want to give a special shout out to the whole community of teachers, fellow ministers, students, parents, and friends who have welcomed me so warmly here and have no doubt made my decision much easier. From my point of view, this is where God has me serving him for now. For an early-thirties millennial, the lack of a clear plan for future years continues to chafe somewhat, but I know God has me whatever life brings. I am thankful for a place at his table.
We’re now far into the winter season and I want to give a brief update on the status of my journey over here in the “land of eagles”—the Albanians’ name for their country Shqipëria (shcheep-per-ia). The holiday corridor of November and December ended in a hectic scramble to get school work done (for teachers and students alike), at which point I happily received my parents for a Christmas-to-New-Years visit. We planned a number of things. Few turned out the way we intended, like swapping out a three-day Italy trip for a week convalescing in my apartment while my parents recovered from bad cases of the respiratory flu that was ravaging the land. We also did not intend on them staying through mid-January while nearby Istanbul and its airport emerged from an uncommon layer of snow and ice. I also did not expect to have the taxing experience of having to teach remotely via Google classroom for a week while schools throughout the city were forcibly closed by the ministry of health, ostensibly due to the flu epidemic. We had many special treats though, including a spectacular New Years firework display launched from hundreds of apartment balconies across the city, and a 30-year record snow, 1-in deep (it stuck!) not many days later. Overall, my parents’ long visit was a joy and a boon to me. They met just about every part of my community here, they know my streets and hang-outs, they know how to pray for me now far better than they did before. I miss them, but I feel strangely closer to them now that they’ve been here, and they feel the same.
It’s just me and my housemate Sajmir in the apartment again, and the schoolwork roles along at a brisk pace. With a semester under my belt, I am a more comfortable teacher in some regards, but I feel like I still need to capitalize on what I’ve learned. Daily, I’m working on marshaling the tools and resources available to me to organize my lesson units and class periods better. I’m starting to get a better handle on AP Calculus preparation, but it will remain a hardy challenge to finish content with a month to spare for practicing the big AP test. I received friendly applause when I announced to my Business Math class that I’ll be sticking around for another year, which really cheered me. And the staff are happy to have me stay, especially in light of the significant change-ups headed our way next year. There’s already talk of what classes I’d teach, and which ones I’d hand off to potential newcomers. It’s good to be a part of a team.
There are many things to pray for and to be thankful for. Here’re my top three:
For GDQ students and staff as we proceed into the second half of this academic year. Pray especially for our high school seniors as they continue navigating the ramp up to college (or “university”), gap years, or whatever else is on the horizon for them. The challenge is especially daunting given their international context.
For GDQ recruitment as the school seeks to fill its ranks for next year. You can look at the specific needs listed on their website here: http://www.gdqschool.org/opportunities/staff-openings/. Do you know anyone who could fill these roles? Pray too for the team-members that still need to decide their plan for next year.
For each other, no kidding. I am still learning how to communicate with a wide base of supporters as I work, and I welcome any questions you might have for me—as well as prayer requests of your own. Each of you has contributed to this enterprise, either financially or through prayer or both, and I want you to know that you’re a part of this. I want you to be encouraged and edified too, enjoying some of the fruit of your participation even now. I say I’ve decided to stay another year, but God will have to provide. We’ll see how this all shakes down as the year progresses, but for now I am content to carry on with the work he’s given me.
Here is another slew of pictures for your viewing pleasure, with captions. By now many of you probably realize that a lot of the meat of these updates is in those images and captions! Thank you again for all your support and encouragement; you’re a part of something bigger than any of us can see.
Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. ~Psalm 24:07
Greetings from Albania! Or, as the locals here call it, “Shqipëri” (sh-‘cheepree, the ‘q’ makes a ‘ch’ sound). This update is a long time in coming, I know, so it’s slightly on the longish side. Once again, I’ve got some paragraphs that summarize what I’ve been up to these past two months, followed by pictures with captions to help illustrate the experience here. Bottom-line, I’m still adjusting to the demands of teaching, I have been given an amazing group of encouraging friends here, and I need prayer as I push—or as the Holy Spirit pushes me—into whatever is coming next. Please pray for that last part especially.
My previous update came a few weeks into the first quarter, and we’re just about as far into the next one now. My lesson planning skills still leave much to be desired, but now it’s less common for me to be up late planning for the next day. The routine at GDQ has gone through several change-ups and life keeps us on our toes, but I love the team here: they are a dedicated, hardworking, and encouraging crew. My students might be getting the hang of my teaching style as well, though I’m constantly trying to improve how I teach. One very happy and recent update is that my AP Calculus syllabus was finally approved by the College Board, and now I can officially say I’m teaching AP Calc!
We had a week-long fall break in early October in which I went with a small group of teachers to Santorini island in the Aegean Sea to rest up and see the sights. It was a remarkable time and it genuinely felt like a gift undeserved (pictures follow). For my part, I’m enjoying getting to know the teachers and their stories as much as getting the hang of teaching itself. It is a special experience to be able to share weekly life with brothers and sisters who are following Jesus in a place so different from our original sense of “home”—it’s also great getting to know the Albanian staff and their perspective.
In a real way, I’ve entered “Act 2” for my time here adjusting to life in Tirana. For the entirety of the first quarter (September-October), I was often on foot or taking public transportation to school. At the beginning of November, I finally got around to borrowing a bike from a family and getting it fixed up with my cousin’s help. On top of that, I recently moved out of the chilly bottom floor of a three-story villa surrounded by mandarin trees and a gate and into a warmer and probably drier high-rise apartment. Between the apartment and the bike, my experience in Tirana has changed a lot.
I’m right in the middle of the Thanksgiving/Albanian Independence holiday. I trust you all had pleasant company for a Thanksgiving Day meal. I was pleased to share the day with my TeachBeyond friends which span grades K-12. Some of us are heading out for a two-day trip to Kosovo to go hiking before school starts up again this week. This comes at a cost to lesson planning and rest, but it will probably do me some good to get out of the city for a little bit. The calendar year is wrapping up quickly, and the Christmas break with my parents’ visit is right around the corner!
The big question of next year is right around the corner too. We teachers have already received our first “intentions for the next year” questionnaire—which I returned with a big ol’ “nuk e di” (“I don’t know”). But I will need to decide by sometime in January/February about whether I plan to return next year. For those of you who have been tracking my story, you’ve at least caught on that my coming here to Albania was preceded by a difficult season and much vocational confusion. There is no question in my mind that God has brought me here; it’s still incredible how quickly he connected many of you all to me and cobbled together your resources to get me over here. And now that I’m here I find myself in the middle of both an amazing, continued provision of resources, friends, and encouragement, and that struggle against unbelief (i.e selfish insecurities) that gets in the way of pressing on into more of his rich blessings and purpose. Please pray for me as I make my way through this final holiday season of the year. Pray that God would quicken my spirit to a more worshipful attitude and a more peaceful trust in him. Pray the same for all my friends here!
For my praying friends, please pray:
For GDQ School and recruitment of new teachers for next year. Next update I’ll go more into this topic, which is a biggie. For now, you can visit their website to keep appraised of the recruitment situation (http://www.gdqschool.org/opportunities/staff-openings/). Specifically, look under the “Opportunities for 2017-2018” heading. This really is a terrific place to work 😉
For all the holiday travel that is currently underway and will be underway in a matter of weeks. Please pray for safety.
For the students and teachers to finish this calendar year well. This may sound like a trite request, but it probably is not: the stronger we finish 2016 the stronger we begin next year which is crucial.
Interestingly, many teachers have noted that this semester has been particularly challenging for whatever reason. Please ask for more grace for the coming Spring Semester, that our hearts would be uplifted and that God would receive great honor in what he accomplishes through us.
Please let me know if there’s any way I can pray for you or if you’d just like to catch up. Thank you so much for all your support, as well as your patience in waiting for an update from me. I’m still getting the hang of this! Cheers!
And blessings in Christ,
…and now for some pictures for your viewing pleasure..
Finally, notice of my arrival. I’m happy to report that I’m alive and well.
REAL QUICK: In case you just want a few snapshots into life here, I’ve taken a page out of the playbook of some of some fellow travelers and have a bunch of pictures with captions at the end of my report for your viewing pleasure. If you’re really short on time, you can find bulleted prayer requests right between the prose n’ pics.
Hey folks! Allow me to come back up to the surface for a moment to catch you up. On August 19, I flew out of Washington, D.C. heading to Tirana, Albania via Rome. Those days immediately before and after arrival were so non-stop, hectic and full that they felt utterly surreal as I floated on the help and provision from loved ones, international travel infrastructure, complete strangers, and new friends. I should have lobbed a quick update to inform you of my safe arrival, but you’ll have to forgive me as I hit the ground sprinting. Those connected to me through Facebook received a brief communique a week later that all was well as the entire high school student body and staff returned from our weekend retreat which had immediately followed four days of teacher training.
When I initially arrived here, I had a fellow teacher named Kyle living in my spare bedroom. Returning for his second year at GDQ, his introductory guidance through the city proved a true God-send. Through Kyle I found the church I plan to attend for the rest of the year as well as many teacher friends from the middle and lower schools that I wouldn’t have connected with as quickly otherwise. Over the course of the first few days during teacher training I met all the staff and they are a lovely bunch. I couldn’t ask for better compatriots and friends here. Kyle has since moved into an apartment with friends he made last year, and his previous housemate, Sajmir, will be moving into my spare bedroom shortly. Sajmir is a native Albanian from a nearby city who works for Cru among university students here in Tirana. Exciting stuff.
The students at GDQ are terrific young people who temper their feisty teenager-hood with genuine faith and a respect for us faculty. They know we’ve come a long way to teach them, and they seem to appreciate that we’re here to help them. I wasn’t entirely sure how things would go with my classroom management, but so far I haven’t completely embarrassed myself or let them down. Between calculus, physics, and business math there are plenty of ways to screw up, and I’ve already made a number of mistakes. My hope (and prayer) is that, as I build a routine of rest and steadier lesson planning, I’ll be more present in the moment—I’m already noticing improvement in my handling of the lessons and I’m so appreciative of the students’ hard work. Can’t believe all three classes are transitioning to their respective Unit 2’s already!
It is nearly impossible to capture the moods and experiences I’ve had during these four weeks (two and a half of them teaching!), and there’s certainly more to unpack. My hope is I’ll do an okay job of conveying God’s continuing grace as this year passes by, hopefully every six weeks or so. For now, here are some key prayer requests and a number of snapshots. Thank you so much for joining me in this adventure!
Please pray for GDQ School as the year continues to pick up pace: that the students would learn both the class content and the life lessons God has in store for them. Also, a nasty stomach virus has been afflicting faculty and students for two weeks now, pray that it ceases.
For my fellow teachers and myself: I’m slowly getting into a groove but lesson plans and need for rest remain big challenges for me as I adapt to life and work here.
For continued fellowship and purposeful living in and outside of school.
Thar she blows. Seeing the city and Mt. Dajti for the first time with my own eyes.
Simple, cosy decore
First walk to the bus stop to get to school
A tremendous downpour happened in the middle of teacher training week. I was caught on a block for a half-hour.
Of course there had to be a steam roller! I cannot believe my new fancy gortex shoes actually kept my feet dry as I hopped on tip-toe dodging the *wave crests*!
Skanderbeg Square after the storm
The coast near Lezhe (ryhmes with beige), during high school retreat before school
Nothing like a good bon fire to end a retreat!
Blurry image of a group of us teachers on our way to dine out someplace
The Historical Museum, the most imposing bus stop location ever
Another major project underway. I’ve been told that many projects come before and after elections.
New sidewalks have been in the process of being built the whole time I’ve been here. You can just mozy up the construction area as you please. That makeshift cross was probably put there by one of them catholics from the school across the street, but it could have been anyone.
“I am the vine, you are the branches.” Growing grapes on the roof.
Part of the trek from the K8 building to the high school
This schedule is so essential, I’ve set it as my phone’s lock screen picture!
Room 301, my classroom!
Just saw this the other day on Kyle’s door, over in the K8 building. I’m startled by how comforting a Gandalf reference is in this strange land.
The famous Stephen Center, a restaurant that specializes in catering to expats and missionaries alike. A frequent gathering place for sure.
You better believe they’ve got good tiramisu here.
The Lanë, a river/stream that flows through the city. It’s presence is seen from many blocks away, flanked by trees the whole way as it cuts through the city.
Don’t ask, just take pictures.
My new church home in Albania: Guri i Themelit (translated Stone of Foundation or Cornerstone)
Here’s Mr Docci the pastor, who is also the father of one of my students
And a long time expat worker, Alan, giving a sermon on 2 Corinthians 8 about giving. We’ve had some delightful conversations about missional theology over at the Stephen Center; he’s a big fan of Christopher Wright’s “Mission of God”–a favorite of Biblical Seminary where I studied this past year!
I knew it as suvlaki in college, they call it suvlaqe here, pronounced “soovlach”. If I don’t get a cooking routine down quick, I will be made of the stuff by next June.
Modern technology has its pitfalls, but it can also warm the heart over great distances.
Technology has multiple ways of warming the heart over great distances. Yep, I brought my Xbox. It requires a step down power transformer to run. I’d rather not let it share the fate of my poor little beard trimmer, which died suddenly in a moment of obliviousness on my part.
My first haircut in Albania. Maybe next time I’ll work up the courage to request an “Albanian” haircut.
They say that anything over five stories tall was built since the fall of communism. This image shows the stark contrast between the old and the new in Tirana.
This nearby open market has been making tremendous headway while I’ve been here. Watch out, you get to walk through the construction site. I’m not kidding, I had just come through there.
Besides Jesus, this has been my closest companion: it holds coffee, it hold’s ice water that tastes a little bit like coffee, it is precious to me.
Still acquiring stuff, like a drying rack…and a deep sense of belonging. But I know I belong here, at least for this season.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. ~2 Corinthians 5:15-16