Putting hope where it matters

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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!


The high school multipurpose room shows up a number of times in this update. Here we are hosting the 8th graders as part of the GDQ talent show.
The owners of the renowned expat haven, the Stephen Center (or Qendra Stefan), are installing some new, rather patriotic American decorations.  This place is a boon even to those expats who work with Albanians on a regular basis. One day I may branch out a little more and come here less…but not today.
The local neighborhood dog, Moza.  Kyle referred to her as Han Solo his first year here.  After discovering that she’s a she, I’ve started calling her Hany. Hany’s a little crazy.
Late spring flowers adding some color to the high school staff room.
I’ve had the opportunity to go outside on some hikes with friends with the improved weather. Never a dull moment walking through the Albanian village life that exists between Tirana and Mount Dajti.
You just need to walk outside of the city a little bit before you’re surrounded by green this time of year!
Here’s a glimpse of a common sight in our rushed AP Physics classes getting through content towards the end of the year: dry erase marker notations all over projected slides–though this happened all year.
Full disclosure: I had to scramble to familiarize myself with electric circuits, a subject which I had not had the opportunity to learn well way back in college. Suffice it to say it was a busy spring!
I decided to throw in a lab investigating circuits for a final exam grade since they were already taking the external AP Physics test.
For her AP review, our amazing AP European History teacher produced a magnificent timeline to put it all together for the kiddos!
For my sanity in this tense review time, I was able to connect occasionally with my sister over Minecraft, a video game in which you construct things and shape the virtual world as a team. That may sound taxing, but it was hardy veg-time for me and I needed it when I could get it.
At GDQ, we take external exams very seriously and we stick to the rule book (like no cell phones under test conditions). This is actually a small ministry we do on the side in a city where cheating and poor test conditions abound, I hear. I have been told that multiple schools have been black-listed by AP, SAT, and others, but the corruption culture is endemic.
Every year an administrator puts this helpful chart together so we know who is proctoring what and when. Most 9th and 10th grade classes have some IGCSE (international British tests) and many of the 11th and 12th graders have multiple AP tests to take. Life balance can be hard to come by this time of year.
Meanwhile, new life! I just saw these cute goslings this week and their feathers have already changed to be white-colored!
Somebody’s birthday, can’t remember whose though.
While much of the external testing was actually happening, I took a week-long trip to Turkey and the surrounding area. Just to take a peek and see what’s going on. Matt 9:36-38, s’all I’ve got to say.
And when I returned home I found that the broken Level 0 button on my elevator had been replaced with the Eye of Sauron.
Some new construction along my commute: the nastiest, most prickly looking wall I’ve ever seen. More lacerate-y than prickly.
The construction of the giant mosque built by outside funders must have transitioned to interior work, because nothing visible has changed in months. This is the view from a coffee shop I went to with a brother who has started an expat Bible study that I’m now a part of.
We had a travelling, gospel-sharing troupe of entertainers swing by. Here we have an award winning uni-cyclist using the students to help him get on the thing. Pretty entertaining.
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We made it to the semi-finals for volley-ball this year and it was quite a thrilling ride!
Construction still abounds in this city, and here we have a puppy with his fellows in a trash heap at the end of a long, beautiful new road. I do not know how I managed to get away without at least three of them in my arm.
The 8th Grade Celebration, commemorating their hard work getting this far. Afterward I immediately went to get a broom.
One of our students at the K8 (Kindergarten through 8th grade building) won a city-wide contest to have her art project painted as a mural in the city. No surprise, our gifted art teacher went straight to work facilitating the logistics of getting the mural painted–and I helped! The theme for our mural was the dreams that stray city dogs have.
Once all the grades are in and the internships are completed we have activity week to round out the year for the high schoolers. Chaperoning is so difficult! (Sarcasm!)
Andy, our Deputy Head, brought his son Jonas to Beach Day. He politely demanded a seat by Mr. Nate. Too cute!
As usual, we had some staff moving on to new chapters of life. However this year we had some true veterans move on and their departure will be significantly felt. Here’s a glimpse of the send off with musical accompaniment with some custom lyrics. I’ve been humming leaving on a jet-plane on and off ever since.
This year we did the K8 Celebration and High School graduation in one day (with a significant lunch break). That little guy on the drums is no joke.
Now that the school year is over, remodeling has already begun to accommodate some larger classes (and bathrooms) in the lower school. The cleaning ladies were a bit flustered. Here we have our grounds-keeper/maintenance-man-extraordinaire Gjergji (“Jaire-jee”) working as foreman.
I got to adventuring with friends almost immediately, heading down to a city called Permet for a rafting trip with friends the weekend after graduation. Not only was this trip tremendously fun, it was my break-out event-coordinating and driving experience in Albania, which has expanded my “comfort zone” significantly here. Yeah, this has been a good and hard year, and I look forward to next year being even better. Here’s hoping!

Fourth quarter push

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.


Looks chilly up there
We’ve been focusing mainly on trigonometry in Pre-Calculus this semester.  It’s neat to set students up for AP Calculus, which is the next class I get to teach them.
Some of us teachers and friends were able to attend a concert consisting of a few opera singers as well as a famous one from Albania.  Getting a slice of society.
A random little event I saw one night, ostensibly showing support for cycling–I’m definitely a fan!
This semester we set up a new whiteboard in the staff room in which we share subject material in each class on a weekly basis.  I struggle to give my colleagues something to work with for cross-curricular purposes, but it’s still a cool idea.
It’s pretty special to be able to watch an Albanian brother at church give a sermon with a scholarly flair, complete with map of the ancient near east having Albanian labels.  Truly, our faith is a global thing.
A scene from chapel time at the high school: blind taste testing of various food types. Mushy bananas, yum.
Snow can be beautiful, especially for places that barely see it.
Another fun game night at the “Dorm”–a cluster of nearby apartments in our building inhabited by some GDQ staff.
The guys made it all the way to the finals this year, which is not necessarily a given in our small pool of international schools.
Fastest move ever! Here a group of friends from a couple different teams help a member move her possessions inside of, 8 minutes?
This year the high school drama team put on “Much Ado About Nothing”, and I had the fun opportunity of stepping in as sound guy.  The kids had the whole room laughing both nights.
Just a little snapshot of life. Here the local caterwaul choir is shifting about above the apartment building’s garage.
We have our K12 art teacher back and she’s been busy spurring on art projects in many places. Here is a canvas painting that all students were encouraged to contribute to.
A fun Saturday breakfast in the “Dorm” to celebrate Summer Day and our long weekend back in March.
Taking some moments away from lesson planning to repair a busted lace loop–I was out of black thread.
Taking a breather walking back home after church listening to a podcast about “whiteness” in America while passing by quite a diverse landscape of Catholic and Muslim architecture.
Spring has arrived at last!
Spring break was full of work and catch-up unit planning, but I was also able to get out for several mini-trips. One of them was a visit to the beautiful Lake Ohrid in neighboring Macedonia.
The fortress on top of the hill in Ohrid City. There are plenty of castles in this region but I’ve only seen a handful so far.
Some of us went on an overnight camping trip on the next mountain over on the other side of Mount Dajti. The views were spectacular.
View from the other side of where we camped.
Quick laces are fantastic, but replacements are a chore to install….I do love my Salomons though, can you tell?
You know you teach at a Christian school if… (Side note: “Cheese or Theologian Name” was hilarious!)
I either forgot that we had cherry blossoms at our gate or I never properly noticed. This year they were gorgeous.
I went all out for this year’s Spirit Week. Here I’m participating in Crazy Hair Day in my own unique way. It was highly controversial.
And here I’m putting a wacky twist on Formal Day with a Harry Potter themed vest that a wonderful family friend made for me. Sure wish I had thought to keep the odd beard for that one! Thank you for all the love you folks have sent my way these months. I’ll be in touch closer to summer.




My how the time flies

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.


The huge quad-minaret mosque nearby is almost complete. It is an impressive structure and makes one wonder about the spiritual future of this small country.
Not a pretty sight, I know, but in the spirit of vulnerability, here’s a picture of my tongue one night back in mid-November. This has only happened about two times, but it can be unsettling and very uncomfortable–like mild bee stings.
I’ve been to the hospital three times, each time receiving a steroid and antihistamine IV infusion which tells my immune system to stop freaking out. It’s particularly difficult when it happens in the middle of the night, and I’m grateful for housemates who have been willing to drive me there.
New construction abounds, as it has since I arrived a year and a half ago.
There has been an aggressive push for beautification and revitalization all over the city. I still wish there was a greater push for better infrastructure like roads and drainage, rather than pretty trees and new buildings. There’s also the consideration that many of these “pallatis” are simply vehicles for money laundering by organized crime.
During one rare day trip to the countryside, some of my friends and I stopped by a medieval Christian monastery outside the city of Fier. I was allowed by the curator to take this one picture, showing the ornate main assembly room.
On the same trip we went to see the ancient city of Byllis (pronounced Byoo-liss) which had many hallmarks of an ancient Roman city. Here we have the footprint of the theater. The scenic clifftop vista was also a bonus.
Byllis has a stunning wall. We were stunned to find out on one of the informational signs that this was an inner city wall, which meant that the original city extended well into the outer field on the side in shadow in this picture.
It’s pretty neat to live in a country in which you can walk around ancient places with few boundaries—although I do recognize this is not ideal for preservation.
I have now been to an Albanian wedding. The music was so loud! And the dancing was lots of fun.  Traditionally Albanian dancing consists of dancing in circles, most likely a Turkish influence dating to centuries past. Here the venue was where many of us attend church.
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The air quality in Tirana during these winter months has been about as bad as last year. Wood smoke is added to the year-round car exhaust and dust, and it can play havoc with our lungs and general health. (This is likely not the culprit of my random angioedema since that began in our fall break trip to Slovenia.)
Tirana at night; a regular sight for me since much of my planning occurs after sundown during winter months.
The high school staff room during a quiet moment at the end of the day.
I spruced up our bachelor Christmas decor with some red baubles this year so Chewbacca has some company.
Jaron, the husband of one of our teachers, came by to take some professional photographs for the school in which an AP Physics lab served as a helpful showcase.
One of the many challenges of teaching this new AP course is finding the resources and time for labs which are supposed to constitute about 25% of the course. Here we are investigating rotational moment of inertia! Woot!
Our new Head of Secondary, Len Phillips, completed some furthering education this year and we were able to celebrate with him a little.
And the angioedema continues.  December was on-and-off.  There was a large break between the beginning of January and the beginning of February.  Here’s hoping it will continue to dwindle to oblivion.
Couldn’t pass up the latest Star Wars movie with friends! Can you see how Albanians phonetically spell Jedi?
Last winter was bitter cold in January, and mild and relatively dry in February and March. So far this year it’s been regular cold and plenty wet. …Well, time to get suited up and ride my bike to school!
Our new Head of Lower School ran this year’s impressive Christmas production.
Return of the parents! Mom and Dad made another holiday trip this year; this time they met me in Rome. There would be no flu to stop us this time!
It was good to have them with me for a whole week and a half while we traveled up and down Italy.
Here we are lounging in Venice at the Piazza San Marco. There’s no denying these are fancy trips, and I’m grateful for the rare opportunities for travel that my current placement affords.  Even as I struggle with a narrow wish for clarity for my own life direction, I can still experience giddiness at all the history and iconic culture that surrounds us.
I have loved history, all of it (besides just boyish geeky castle stuff) since Mr. Cox’s class in 11th grade.  Venice is beautiful and has a strange, dilapidated version of preservation, isolated on a lagoon like it is.  They say it won’t be an inhabited city within a few decades due to rising water levels.  Makes me extra thanksful for the visit!
For Mom, this was a return to old haunts from traveling experiences when she was a teenager. It has changed a lot with commercialization and the spread of department stores, but I’m sure it was still a treat to see it all again.
Here’s me trying to dress like Where’s Waldo on top of St. Peter’s in Rome.  Our time in Italy was a delight, but it was full and even a little logistically stressful. Still, God showed his bounty again and again taking care of us as we explored his old cities.
Back in Tirana it has been a wet winter! Although I have finally started cooking on a more regular basis like a real adult, I still frequent the local ex-pat friendly restaurant where I can get a lot of work done, theoretically.
Buying produce is always a feast for the eyes here in Tirana!
food collage
Slowly but surely I’m beginning to live up to my last name.  Time still feels scarce with all the lesson planning, but I’m getting the hang of some standby recipes, and talking kitchen is becoming a fun pastime with fellow teachers.
Recently we had our first annual staff retreat in the nearby coastal city of Durres. Dan Bishop came back down from where he serves elsewhere in Eastern Europe to share on the topic of cultivating intimacy with Christ in the midst of a busy life. A bit apropos.
This amount of rain is what I had expected for my first year, which turned out to be abnormally dry.  Thankfully my rain gear has done its job, but I’m ready for things to dry off a little. Thankfully, spring is around the corner.



Back in Action with Year 2

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!



The flight to Tirana via Rome has us go right over the beautiful Alps (foreshadowing Fall Break)
Already having my bearings and my friends at the ready, I was able to join in on a day trek to the Cape of Rodin which has some ruins surrounded by clear, chilly water
Teacher training week is a blast! –Mostly!
This year, while the K-8 (kindergarten through 8th grade) began classes, the high school and teachers headed down to the Albanian-Greece border for our annual retreat.
High school retreat is always a great opportunity for the students to transition back into the swing of things, and a good time for the teachers to do the same.
Back to work
This year, besides AP Physics and AP Calculus, I am teaching Pre-Calculus with the 11th graders. Here we’re reviewing polynomials.
The whole K-12 enjoys a presentation by a visiting Korean Taekwondo team
A couple physics students performing a Nerf gun launch experiment to test projectile motion equations. The guy way in the distance is one of my cousins!
One of the key challenges so far has been working experiments into the curriculum and schedule. The (albeit well intended) focus on “inquiry-based” teaching makes for a very difficult class planning experience when you have so much content to cover.
A welcome, home-cooked meal by our Scottish biology teacher Janet. She’s done a fabulous job re-organizing the science class materials in the K8 building, and will be retiring from this gig come Christmas.  She will be dearly missed.
Celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving with teacher friends and other fellow workers. I kind of took over selfie-taking duty for that moment.
The AP Physics groove is taking shape with lots of theory quick checks and problem solving practice.
Near the end of October some of us went on a huge 2000 km road trip for fall break covering most of former Yugoslavia.  Here is a panoramic taken from the top of the medieval clock tower inside Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia. Quite a view!
Our longest single stay was near Bled, Slovenia, but we took a day in the middle of that to visit the tallest peak in Austria: Grossglockner
We even got to glimpse hikers on the peak!
And thus begins my troubled experience with random swelling.  So far I’ve experienced three (and a half) episodes of anomalous auto-immune reactions in the past two weeks.  I’ll keep y’all posted if things worsen.
Though we probably crammed in a little too much action for good rest during break, we did see some beautiful sights. This is the lake west of Bled, where we stayed for a few nights.
A polar bear challenge was thrown down and I obliged.
It was a little colder than Santorini cliff jumping
Lake Bled, i.e. Slovenian Hogwarts





On the way home we traveled through Bosnia which still bears copious scars of war and destruction from the conflict with Serbia and the terrible “ethnic cleansing” that transpired in the 90s.
Can you imagine living in Sarajevo when artillery besieged the entire city from the mountain ridges surrounding it? We humans can be so horrible sometimes it can stagger the mind.
The whole fall break group on the Latin Bridge, adjacent to where Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated (having already survived a bomb attack that morning, poor folks) which propelled the world into WWI.
The Balkans are certainly full of natural beauty.
Back at GDQ, AP Calculus maintains last year’s pace without too much trouble. It’s a taste of what a fully “second” year would feel like.
Construction continues everywhere. Here a new “pallati” (big building) is going up right behind the K8 field.  At some point GDQ hopes to find a building that can fit all K-12 grades. For now we have two locations.
A picture I fired last week at the TEG mall a quick bus-ride to the southern outskirts of the city. Jumbo is a department store where you get cheap goods, and kitsch.
Here pastor Ylli (pronounced Oo-lee) commemorates the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. In a land filled with conflict and tension between thousand-plus-year old religious affiliations, the legacy and importance of the Reformation carries special meaning to the fledgling Evangelical church, and ultimately, we hope, to the entire region that needs real hope in a living savior and King.
My “dorm-mates” (minus Sajmir). It’s good to live in community.

Summers fly as fast as they used to


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!!

Looking forward to staying in touch.



Back in the States means a fair amount of cuddle time with the family pup
The visits with friends started right away!
Soaking in the green
I’ve taken a lot of pictures of outdoor life
And I lost of a lot of pictures when I inadvertently did a factory reset on my phone trying to restart it–including a really fun picture/video I took holding a dazed cardinal as it recovered from having flown into a window.  It even pooped in my hand, which was startling and kind of gross.
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We’ve gone on lots of walks for the days that I’ve been home
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And I’ve gotten some good Minecraft time in with the Sis–and the dog apparently
Emily’s POTS heart condition has proven difficult to manage, and we’re hoping we can achieve a better “new normal” soon.  In the meantime, buoyant pressure from short dips go a long way to mitigate the dizziness and discomfort for a while
I’ve been able to get in some quality time with the parents as well: here we are waiting for the fireworks at Colonial Williamsburg
It was no New Year’s celebration in Tirana, but it was pretty in its own right and it celebrated the fight against tyranny, a hard struggle indeed!  But thanks be to God, his Kingship is the only truly good one and he will bring his good plan to fruition.
We were able to do get some odd jobs done around the house, including re-installing an old car radio for Emily
It was good, and a little surreal, to be back in the old homestead outside Philly for a week.
Here we have a half-hearted reproduction of a picture I snapped during the AP Summer Institute.  It was genuinely a very helpful class, and I’ve been up to my eyeballs parsing through the resources and lessons given to help prepare me for teaching AP Physics 1.
Our incredibly knowledgeable instructor took us through many lab experiments, many of which will require me to find alternatives to the super-fancy equipment he used. Here we have a cool projectile ball gun launching from a balcony.
It was a relief to finally have the textbooks chosen, shipped, and received. They’ll accompany me on my way back which is by far the cheapest way to get things to where I work.
In addition to copious curriculum preparation, I have had the pleasure of networking with many of you.  It’s seasons like these where the body of Christ, and friends in general, can really shine with the power of encouragement.  Thank you all for the love and encouragement you’ve shown me this summer!
Once again I bid adieu to this lovely little piece of the world with old friends and loved ones close by.  My purpose is elsewhere for the time being!

See you laters’ to people, goodbyes’ to seasons


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.



The view from my apartment building’s stairwell
Andy giving a special end-of-year chapel reading Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
One of my students turned in her take-home test during the last week of class with a colorful alternative to staples; coincidentally she did really well!
This is me realizing that I need to spend a class or two on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets rather than rush though cell formulas with a student after class.
A random tourist picture of the day with a bride and groom travelling in style!
One of my teacher-friends has taken pity on my under-developed cooking skills and has decided to help me learn a few standbys.
Roger and Nikki Pearse will be missed, having headed GDQ for 13 pivotal years.  Here, the GDQ community is giving them a royal send-off with a special ceremony.
I decided to stick around til midnight with the high schoolers during their Friday night lock-in.  Here we have some of the South Korean students cooking mouth-watering food that they were happy to share.
Activity week comes complete with a beach day, which is probably much more relaxing for the high school teachers than the lower school!
Now is the season for purchasing new textbooks.  Here we have Kyle’s choice for world history–fitting for such a huge nerd of ancient Rome! (I’m fascinated by the history too.)
Activity week also included a forced march–mandatory walk up part of Mt. Dajti
…In which some of us visited an old bunker, complete with communist signage–incredible
So I say goodbye to the classroom for a couple months
There’s more activity than just the high school: Scanderbeg Square has re-opened after a major beautification overhaul (was it needed?)  It is good to have that lane open again to traverse the middle of the city.
The celebrations are also a reminder of the elections that are happening soon.  You can pray for good governance which is still a big need for this still-new democracy.
This final week here I had the privilege to join some friends on a trip up north to see what is known as the Albanian alps–we took a ferry ride to get there which was beautiful.
And the destination was as magnificent as everyone said it would be.  I am truly blessed to be able to serve in such an accessible and interesting place!


And I’m even more blessed to be able to serve with such fine people, truly (this picture being a segment of the amazing community God has provided all of us here).

Winding up before winding down my first year


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!


Several teachers and I tagged along on a field trip with the 12-graders to the Bektashi World Headquarters here in Tirana one afternoon.  The Bektashi order might be considered a sect of Islam which borders on universalism in some ways.
Local construction is always ongoing in Tirana, but it’s been especially prevalent these past few months around the nearby Bazar i Re (“New Market”). So here is before…
…And after
A recent invention of some local expats: asking for banana-walnut infused pancakes!  Have I mentioned how much I love Stephen Center?
I’ve been informed we call her Whitney, not Whiney–still squeaky and loving as ever.
One weekend I was able to join some teacher friends on a day trip to Lake Ohrid, which is a famous tourist stop between Albania and neighboring Macedonia.  Coincidentally, that weekend a political kerfuffle began to snowball in which the minority Albanians made a major bid to have their language officially recognized as Macedonia’s second language.
Boat rides come highly recommended here, especially if you can kidnap a friendly street dog for extra company.
The shoreline of Ohrid City
Fast forward to the shoreline of the Artificial Lake in Tirana on my first bike ride to that area.  It’s a favorite outdoor hang out spot for, well everybody. Such desolate beauty can only be found from this angle.
An interior view of the newly finished Toptani Mall, which I can no longer refer to as simply “The Curvy Glass Building”
A typical sight in my apartment–it looks just like this as I type!
My calculus students working away at limits with L’Hopital’s Rule.  I’ll miss these guys.  It’s been an honor and a treat to serve as their teacher their senior year.
Some of the GDQ gang playing Uno at the Teachers’ Day event.  Beaming straight at us we have the fabulous Alma, our high school office manager who keeps the ship sailing from day to day.
Stopping for fruit on the way to a nearby TeachBeyond staff gathering
Visiting the Pyramid with my housemate Sajmir on Summer Day (March 14, go figure–I’m told it’s something to do with the harvest)
One of the best housemates a person could want in a cross-cultural setting, in any setting really.  Some things take no effort to be grateful for: my brother Sajmir is one of them.
With the Bazaar i Re’s recent construction overhaul, some wonder if it is more hurtful than helpful to the local merchants.  Is this the epitome of detrimental gentrification? I certainly hope for their sakes it is not.  So far, commerce appears to be recovering (this was an early picture).
The final sports season at GDQ is volleyball, which has quite the enthusiastic following.  Our boys team plays in the finals this Wednesday!  The venue this year has been a Turkish school with an underground gym, pretty neat.
Putting things together in anticipation of the big AP Calculus test. Here we’re matching differential equation examples to their respective slope fields–exciting!
Confession time: I borrowed a hymnal from BCF back when I was a college student and never got around to returning it.  If it is any consolation, I ended up bringing it with me and it has provided some precious quiet times with the Lord as I work and live over here.  I can bring it back when I visit this summer! You’ll forgive me right?
Opening day of high school spirit week: pajama [bottom] day!
My cup ran clear over on my birthday when I was invited to come over to my cousins’ home with some friends to celebrate. Red velvet cake is my favorite!
Signs of Spring…and an encroaching presence of Islam
April showers
I made sure to work around the Minecraft characters my students had left on the board.
More spring
More juxtaposition
Daphne the mule has become something of a Physics class mascot. I made that figure myself with the image of a cantering mule (no kidding) and two pictures of Indiana Jones.  I don’t think the students appreciate Daphne very much since they claim she haunts their dreams.
Back to the Bazaar i Re, where business seems to keep improving for the local merchants
Various booths were set up a few weeks ago with a number of different crafts to buy.
I try to do my part as a produce client by building a basic cooking repertoire. Still a work a progress.
Ah Rome.  I had the pleasure of visiting this city for four days over spring break with some other teacher friends.  It’s hard to pass up when its just a $150 plane ride away!
Our apartment was located only a few blocks away from the Colosseum, just remarkable.
I could spend days here thinking about the history
The Roman Forum was also a spectacle to behold.  Keep the size of the people in mind when considering scale.  This panoramic view from atop the Palatine Hill where the Emperor lived (from where we get the word palace).
The trip was exhausting physically because we visited so much, but also mentally because I could not stop thinking about literally 2000 years worth of history, from ancient times, through the dark ages, and into the Renaissance and beyond… Also, Busch Gardens nailed it.
We had a whole Vatican Day where we did nothing but worship Mary–ouch!! Just kidding.  Truly, it was a treat to visit such an important and historical, and epically massive sight. Once again, scale: notice the size of the people right up to the doors of Saint Peter’s Basilica–can you see them?
I spent much of the day gazing all around me and praying for my brothers and sisters who are Catholic, praying for all of us really.
When in Rome, you eat gelato..and we did.
We also visited an ancient river port city named Ostia Antica (where we get the word “antiques” I hear).  This place was more immersive than Rome in many ways!
The view from home never ceases to amaze
On Easter Sunday a number of evangelical churches in and around the Tirana area came together to worship outside in a prominent location south of the city center.  It was quite a sight to behold, and I hear it was an encouragement to some brothers and sisters for sure.
The first week after spring break we had a traveling speaker from TeachBeyond give chapel presentations every day.  It was quite a blessing, for me included.  (The tattoo on that student is not real, no fear.)
Cottonwood, the snow of spring!
A regular view for me, sitting and working in the staff room.  This is still a busy week, but soon things will wind down for the year.  Thank you for all your prayers and support!  Please keep praying for additional recruitment especially!!




Gezuar Vitin e Ri! (Happy New Year!)

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.

In Christ,


My parents got straight to work documenting the view when they arrived!
Introducing the Stephen Center, my regular haunt
The Teleferique was an easy choice for a casual day seeing the sights while getting over jetlag
A glimpse of rural Albania, a thing I’ve hardly had sight of so far…
That small sheen on the horizon behind us is actually the Adriatic Sea!
We spent a day visiting the nearby coastal city of Durres, ancient gateway to Rome.  We were hosted by the Bishops, whose son I teach.  Pray for their work in this gateway city; it’s not hard to see this place as one of the front-lines of the struggle for Albania’s soul.
Part of the ancient amphitheater, half-excavated but also wholly covered in medieval concrete by the Ottomans long ago in an attempt to erase history.  According to legend, this may be the very site of Titus’ martyrdom under Emperor Trajan.
There is no analog for this amphitheater in the rest of Balkans, with estimates that it could seat 18,000 to 20,000 spectators!
A common sight in the apartment, especially during the rough flu week.  We cruised through the entirety of “John Adams” during that time–an interesting theme given the recent election.
A view from the “Observator” tower during our fist morning stepping out from our long flu convalescence. My cousins’ house is actually in this shot.
New Years is crazy here!
Some of us tried our hand at sending off a lamp, which wasn’t very successful.
This unfinished quad minaret mosque already dominates the local skyline.  Its call to prayer is going to be something indeed.
Out and about seeing the sights of Tirana. Here visiting “the Pyramid” which is an old vestige of communist days under dictator Enver Hoxha (‘Ho-ja).  Interestingly, one of my students recently informed me that the name Hoxha is as common as Smith is back home.
A piece of the Berlin Wall
Heading into BunkArt 2, which is a recent museum dedicated to the victims of Hoxha’s deadly and autocratic rule.
The museum is designed well, and is located in a genuine bunker attached to the old ministry of internal affairs.
Very heavy history, but worth the time to learn about it.
Snow on Mt. Dajti…and here we were excited about going to see the white stuff up there…
…Never expected to have it come down to us!
According to my cousins, it has never snowed enough to stick in their memory of nearly 20 years.  The last significant snow was back in 1985.
A selfie with my housemate and bro, Sajmir (I’ve no idea why I look like Kylo Ren from Star Wars)
A rare and beautiful sight
Only a day or so before my parents flew back home, we visited nearby Kruje up on the nearby mountain slopes, north of Tirana.
It’s got quite a view
My cousin Melodye, Johnny, and our friend Sarah. We had the pleasure of dining where they regularly take guests who are visiting.  Come what may, it really has been a blessing to finally see their life over in this hemisphere.
God’s beauty in a land that needs him
Now some random highlights.  Here we have my Calculus student Joshua and I playing Battlefield 1 in a nearby computer gaming “arena” with some other GDQ students off camera.
My cousin Christopher–my other Calculus student–and I comparing facial hair
Our high school basketball team playing New York High School (the nice gym is part of another school)
The covered garage at the base of my apartment building where I and another teacher keep our bikes.
I really dig the vines.
In my travel gear heading down my tiny elevator, ready for the commute to school
Another stray dog pic.  I named this one Whiney, sweet as can be.
A common sight after a meal, best shared with friends.  I think my parents are in the market for an espresso maker now.
The birds regularly circle around a nearby intersection just down the road, filling each afternoon with fun and wonder if you’re looking.
It was a special treat to share this place with them for a while.
Still curious about the future, but I’ll take the beauty God offers.

From the middle of Thanksgiving

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in
  ~Psalm 24:07

Sun rays south of the city Elbasan where we went to watch a football/soccer game

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..

Seeing more of the sights: a large Eastern Orthodox church near Skanderbeg Square
More sights: a huge tower in the middle of the city has remained unfinished for years.  I privately refer to it as the Stone Tower, reminding me of a setting in a video game from childhood 🙂
GDQ is going through some major transition in the coming years. This is our high school principle being prayed over by the student body after the announcement that she is stepping up as interim K-12 director until we find a more permanent replacement. Lori is one of the hardest working and most productive persons I know, pray for her.
Mount Dajti (‘DI-tee) blanketed in smooth clouds on a clear September morning
The entrance to the HS building where I work.  I love how the lobby windows behave like open walls.  They’ve been closed since it’s gotten a little chilly outside.
Look students, symmetry!
I’ve named the big one Sprite. I’may afraid the little one isn’t with us anymore 😦
More strays basking in the sun.  Tirana has a very humane way of dealing with these fellas: neutering and tagging rather than the other thing.
The Santorini company! A fantastic group to go adventuring with.
A view of a helpful landmark near our Air B&B homebase.  There’s an ancient city up on the crest of that hill!
Visting Fira, the city with blue roofs, sans the blue roofs for the time being
It felt like walking into a postcard, really.
One morning we got to swim in a hot spring at the side of the central volcano, then we hiked said volcano.
Viewing Fira from a distance
Checking out the ancient city of Thira perched above where we stayed that week. History, vistas, good friendship, who can ask for more?
Thira was a fortress city that was a major naval power in ancient times.
I thought Thira was going to be the best day, then the next day happened…On the other side of that rock outcropping is a ledge that provided some excellent cliff jumping!
Ending our week with an amazing sunset view from the southern tip
Back in Tirana where I continued enjoying a ground floor residence amid fruit trees galore. I had no idea mandarin trees have such lovely flowers!
Up until recently, this was the pleasant little view outside my home
My borrowed bike, all spruced up and ready to go. Thank you to all the people who helped me get this thing up and running!
A view of part of the “electric market” where all manner of technological devices can be found.
Protecting by day
Keeping vigil by night
Markets abound here, and this pretty one caught my eye on the way to school
View from the K8 building. This place has remarkable vistas!
A mural at the K8 building. Every now and then I find myself over here for meetings or grabbing supplies for physics experiments.
One Saturday we took the Teleferique up to Mount Dajti’s summit, getting out of the city for a little bit.







The view of Tirana from near the top!
In early November there was a week of torrential rain and flooding. This is the Lana river after it had begun to recede toward normal levels, though still pretty high. Sadly my housemate Sajmir’s family home was flooded in the valley north of Tirana. Please pray for him and his family as they rebuild.
The umbrella drying station at the HS
Several weeks ago an group of us went to a city called Elbasan, nestled up in the mountains southeast of Tirana, for a football game with Israel.
The same weekend of the game in Elbasan I moved from the villa into fill a vacancy in a nearby high-rise apartment. Still figuring out my routine here.
The new apartment comes with a terrific view!
A fun shot of the super-super moon the other week.
And this view was just taken this morning on our way into Kosovo for our hiking excursion. A fitting illustration of my view of the future: very shrouded, but with a hope that God’s plan is loaded with beauty.

One month since landfall

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.

What is my blue dot doing there?!

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.


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