On Sunday afternoon (July 27 @ 4 p.m.), Central District of Virginia Mennonite Conference held a celebration for my 11 years of service as an overseer in the district and a commissioning for Elsie and I as we prepare to return to Albania. It was a good time of talking with friends from the four Mennonite congregations I had served (Beldor, Christiansburg, Mount Clinton, and Weavers) and from across the whole conference. We met in Shady Oak, the fellowship hall of Weavers Mennonite Church.
Celebration and Commissioning Meeting at Shady Oak (Weavers Mennonite Church) (27-Jul-14; © Holden Byler)
Elsie and I were so glad to hear and see that our four children were present, and we understand why their spouses and children in Pennsylvania could not make it althought we missed them all.
The four churches I served also gave us a gift of a photo of a herd of sheep in winter snow as a symbol of servant leadership they said I modeled. That was definitely one of my goals. Only God know how I succeeded and failed at this.
Our Ministry Support Team Meets for the First Time (29-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
I deeply thank Holden (married to Heidi) for these three photos. He inspires me to keep working at my craft and hobby of photography!
Then on Wednesday afternoon, we had two visitors from our days in Lezhë. Lisa Mast, the music teacher at Lezha Academic Center this past year, came from Oklahoma where she is living for now, and picked up Irena Xhari at Dulles International Airport. Irena will be a freshman at Hesston College (KS, USA) this fall. On their roundabout way back to the Mid-West, they stopped in Harrisonburg and our home. It was very good to reconnect agian and to wish Lisa and Irena God's blessing for the furture. our daughter Heidi and two-and-a-half-year-old Sydney stopped by, too.
Lisa Laughs as Irena Turns Shy for the Camera (30-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Irena, Sydney, and Heidi Connect (30-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
We are alsways glad to hear how the seniors from Lezha Academic Center are doing and whet their plans are for the next year. So any of you who are reading this please keep us informed.
Last evening our Ministry Support Team met for the first time to get organized for its role and for prayer. We are thankfully to each of them for joining with us in supporting and holding us accountable during our time of living and serving God in Lezhë, Albania. They are Paul (off of the left of the photo; sorry, Paul) and Evelyn Kratz, Mary Louise and Wilmer Lehman, Nate and Mim Yoder, and James and Emily Åkerson.
Our Ministry Support Team Meets for the First Time (29-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
We need prayer for wisdom, for health, for peace in spite of physical limitations, and for a listening and caring heart. These are gifts which only God can give. We thank him already for helping us during these days of getting ready for a year away from our house in Harrisonburg.
On Friday morning we went to the radiology department at Rockingham Memorial Hospital (now part of Sentara) where I was given a steroid injection into my left hip joint. This should help ease my pain in that joint for the next three to six months. We are asking God to extend that to cover the whole time we are in Albania, but we are also trying to be willing to live with whatever happens.
Then later that afternoon we drove to Charlottesville and attended the annual Virginia Mennonite Conference Assembly,for the evening service only. All of the service was inspiring and challenging. But I remember three parts in particular. One of these was the missional story shared by Dameon Hines, a fraternal delegate from the Jamaica Mennonite Church. He told how God walked beside him after he gave up on his own strategy for being an effective pastor. That was a good reminder as we return to Albania. I had met his wife, Shelley, and 2 1/2 year-old daughter, Brianna, a week ago when I preached at Weavers Mennonite Church.
Dameon Hines Shares at Virginia Mennonite Conference Assembly (25-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Seth Hankee, sang a song of faith in God he composed. It included the words, "I believe you [God] will provide all I need in my life." This is the faith Elsie and I have tried to live out during our life journeys and share that commitment as we look towards our return to Albania.
Seth Hankee Sings His Song of Faith and Encouragement (25-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Aaron Kauffman, president of Virginia Mennonite Missions, reminded all of us that we are God's people living for him wherever we are and not just the "missionaries." He also challenged us to listen to persons and be their friends as God's representatives.
Aaron Kauffman Challenges All to Live as God's Poeple (25-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
The evening closed with a commissioning of newly credentialed and/or newly assigned ministers and new and returning mission workers. So as we return to Albania, we also want to hear about and know that each of you being his people wherever he has placed you.
OK, we are not so old. Really! But we learned to know each other very well this past spring while we were all in Lezhë, Albania. So when Phil and Betsy Moyer said they were gong to be in the Harrisonburg, VA, USA, area on Monday, July 21, she invited them and us to lunch.
Phil Moyer, Lois King and Betsy Moyer Chat about Lois' Old Rocker (21-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
And when we all knew Klementina and Dini Shahini were also going to be in town that same day, they were also invited to lunch. It was a very special time of sharing news and just being friends.
Klementina and Dini Shahini Join Phil and Betsy in Conversation (21-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
So whether we were talking animatedly with each other or just enjoying listening or thinking, the company was lovely.
Klementina and Betsy in Animated Sharing (21-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Dini Listening Intently to Others (21-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Lois, thanks so much for the meal and for hosting us all. This was a special moment in our summer.
For those of you who are or will be living in Albania and associated with Virginia Mennonite Missions, please send me the address of your blog (if you are writng one). I'll be glad to post the info here.
For the past two weeks, my wife (Elsie) and I have been part of an orientation for persons preparing for living in another country and cultural setting than their own. Four of these persons will join us in living in Lezhë, Albania and teaching or otherwise serving at the Lezha Academic Center (an American-style high school taught in English). Elsie and I leave on August 4 to return to Lezhë to a full academic year this time. In the spring of this year, we had lived in Lezhë for four months. (To learn more of our experiences during that time, check out my earlier blog on "Living in Albania.")
Here are some photos from our time of orientation this summer with a few of my short comments.
Below are Melanie and Justin Erb, Jonathan Cranston, Martin Rhodes (Virginia Mennonite Missions staff person) and Elsie on July 7, our first day of orientation. Justin and Melanie are going to Lezhë, Albania, while Jonathan will be returning to the Philippines, a country he had lived in for several years as a child.
First Day of Orientation Begins (7-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Each day Kevin Clark, (an Assistant Professor and Campus Minister at Eastern Mennonite Seminary) led us in a time of "Soul Care" first thing after our breakfast together.
Kevin Clark Leads a "Soul Care" Session (7-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Each day we also had input and discussion led different persons. On Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning of the first week, Linford and Janet Stutzman shared on the topic of the theology of missions. Linford is Director of the Coffman Center at EMS and Professor of Culture and Mission at EMU. They shared from their experiences living in Germany and while on a sailboat on the Mediterranean Sea visiting where the Apostle Paul had gone. (For more details of their sailing experiences, read Sailing Acts.)
Linford Stutzman Discusses the Practical Theology of Missions (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Our personalities showed through as we learned together, whether my "bad physics humor" or the impish expression on the face of Caleb Kiefer as he sees me taking his picture. Below Caleb and Josh Kirkman look at a book on learning the Albanian language (shqip). Josh plans on teaching at Lezha Academic Center.
Sharing a Moment with Each Other and the Camera (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Caleb and Roni, with all of their fun energy, will be working at the Maranatha School for the Deaf in Jamaica.
Energized for Fun and Service (8-Jul-14; Richard L. Bowman)
Melanie and Justin will teach art and carry administrative duties at LAC in Lezhë.
Carefully Listening to Another's Ideas (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Katrina Schmid will also be teaching at LAC in the area of math and physical science.
Also Intent on Listening (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Aaron Kauffman, president of VMM since January 1, acquainted us with the VMM Mission and Vision and Christian discipleship. One possible avenue toward enhancing accountable discipleship suggested by VMM staff is the formation of Life Transformation Groups (two or three persons of the same gender covenanted together for Bible reading and sharing).
While I personally do not get very excited over new names for concepts, I am interested in how we can work at Christian discipleship more effectively. So a couple of us men have already talked about possibly starting one or two LTG's in Lezhë. Or depending upon how many persons are interested and what a particular group's goals are, we could consider a "huddle" or two. I'll share more about LTG's and huddles in a future post.
The President Speaks... (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
...About the Mission and Vision of VMM (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
...And Life Transformation Groups (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Lynn Suter, the Director of Operations and International Ministries at VMM since January 6, brings her broad experience (in college administration, law, and living in Nepal for three years with her husband and family) to her new role.
And the Director of International Ministries Also Listens (8-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Don and Rita Steiner, members of the Lezha Academic Center US board, hosted those of us planning on working at LAC and living and worshipping in Lezhë to their home for dinner one evening. It was a good time of relaxation and talking about LAC and our going to be part of it as we shared the excitements and a few frustrations that we sense will be ahead of us.
Enjoying an Excellent Meal and Conversation (9-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
God willing, there will be four new persons going under the VMM tranSend umbrella to LAC. The four (Katrina, Melanie, Justin, and Josh) gathered for the group pose below. Elsie and I will return to LAC for a full academic year this time, but we are technically under the VMM Partners in Mission moniker. Justin Rittenhouse has already taught math at LAC for two years and will be retuning this fall, too. Klementina Shahini (director of the school for all three years of its existence) and her husband Dini (overall facilities person at LAC and churchman) continue to live in Lezhë year round. There are also a number of Albanian faculty and staff members who help make the school the good institution it is. Together we live and work to make LAC an institution of rigorous education in a community of learners with a Biblical worldview. (See the detailed mission and vision for LAC for more details.)
They Gave Their Best Shot (9-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
From late afternoon on Thursday, July 10m through the afternoon of Friday, July 11, the group plus VMM staff and some of their families were at Highland Retreat for a time of retreat together and alone. Carol Tobin, Asia Regional Director for VMM, asked us to ponder which of the random items she had placed on the floor described us. We then shared our thoughts of who we are.
What Describes My Life? (10-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Justin Rittenhouse (now which one should we call "the other Justin"?), shared from his two years of living and teaching in Lezhë on Friday evening, and he and Jonathan led us in a time of informal singing with violin and guitar after the planned activities were concluded on Thursday evening.
Telling His Story (10-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Sherah-Leigh's daughter and Sylvia's and Martin's daughter got along well with pictures and colored markers while the adults had our activities.
Can We All Work Together Like This? (10-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
One of the activities Carol led us in Friday morning during our time of worship was to use modeling clay to make something that vulnerably described us. Again, we then shared our "artwork" and some of our thoughts.
What Do You Make of Your Life? (11-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
She Asked the Question and Gave Her Own Answer, too! (11-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
After this time of worship, Elsie and I shared some pictures from our four months in Lezhë and what we had learned. One of these was that God helped us to be vulnerable simply because we needed others as we dealt with some physical impairments. (I scraped my leg on a metal post and got a serious leg infection, and Elsie fell down some stairs and badly twisted her ankle.)
The next week back at the VMM headquarters, Kevin Clark continued to lead us each day in "Soul Care,," and other speakers directed our thinking outside of the box. These included Carolyn Stauffer, David Brubaker, and Lawrence Yoder--all from Eastern Mennonite University. Also, many of the VMM staff also gave input that stretched us how we should live as Christians (Carol and Skip Tobin and Loren Horst) and things that stretched us on how to handle the financial reporting and recordkeeping and the public relations aspects of our times of service in other countries (Sherah-Leigh Gerber, Jon Trotter, Lois Maust, Sarah Schoenhals, and Jan Liskey).
Waiting Her Turn (or for me to stop talking!) (16-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Ready to Discuss Publicity (16-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Whitney Specht joined the us during the last week of our orientation. She will be living and serving in the Kosovo (a partially recognized independent country), north of Albania and working at a milk processing plant.
From the Same Church and to Different Countries (16-Jul-14; © Richard L. Bowman)
Thursday evening, July 17, there was a meal with the Missionary Support Team for each tranSend person and a commissioning ceremony. We are eager to get back to Albania and Lezhë, and feel the bonding we have done with the other persons in our orientation group. They will always be our friends and fellow persons on the journey to follow Christ in life.
--©2014, Richard L. Bowman