Friday, December 17, 2004

Gail Berger's Prayer Letter. Carol and I met Gail last summer. She is a friend of our minister, Van Lahmeyer, and met him when he pastored her church in Alaska. She is now a missionary with "Alongside Ministries" in Albania. She had been there for a short term mission a year or so ago, but decided to go back for what I would call a "plenary call", starting three months ago. She is a delightful young lady.

She told us about Albania when she visited our church. Van had been on a short term mssion trip there too, about ten years ago. He was familiar with this fascinating place, where God had been locked out for a generation or two by a Communist regime that considered Red China apostate. The church is now growing. When Van was there, the elders were in their late teens or early twenties, as the older people were burned out by the empty promises and lies of the Communists. Now those young people have aged a bit and made it a Gen-X church.

Gail had a wonderful story of visiting a home where she was asked to present the Gospel. Someone translated for her. In the midst of her presentation, the woman of the house stopped her and asked her why no one had come and told her about this before and she said she wanted to know this Jesus. She accepted Him on the spot. My eyes fill with tears just remembering this story.

I think of the wonderful Christmas we anticipate here in Miami Springs with all of our children, our daughters-in-law, our new grandson, and the Sewells. Then I think of Gail over there, so far from home. I thank God for her, and for all of those who serve Him so far away from home.

Here is Gail's prayer letter. I really like it. Let me know if you would like her email, and I will email it to you.

Dear praying friend,

Five years ago, a poster in a shop along the Boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey arrested my attention. The stark juxtaposition of orange and blue depicts a tiger running on a beach, chasing something at full speed. His four feet are tucked up in mid-stride beneath his massive body, not one of them touching the wet sand below. His tail is stretched taut behind him,
his eyes riveted, unwavering, fixed on something far away. Every fiber of
his being thrums with effort and concentration as he runs. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord…Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on to win the prize…Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector
of our faith… (Col. 3.23, Phil. 3.13,14, Heb. 12.2).

There’s nothing like living in another culture and language to humble a person. Every day I realize how much I don’t know. Cultural idioms and histories that shape Albanian worldview, nuances in language usage, cultural jokes, and unwritten rules… these are all beyond me, not to mention the “little” things like language syntax and vocabulary that help me to
communicate like a normal human being! What is worse, there is no cramming here, either; no resplendent burst of effort and intellingence will cut it.

This job of learning is a long-term job. Run like a tiger, Gail-girl. Steady on.
A transition in living situation and in ministry focus is coming soon for me. In January, I will move out of my host family’s house down to the Torchbearers-Albania Bible School to be an “RA” for the students for the spring term. The fourteen young adults received phenomenal training this fall through powerful Bible teaching, community living experience,
evangelism and village outreach, and mutual sharpening by interaction with other sticks of “iron”-- each other, the school leadership, and the visiting professors. This spring, I will live among them to provide encouragement, direction, prayer cover, and accountability. For my part, it will continue my language study as well as be a way I can meaningfully contribute to the ministry here in Erseka.

However, it will also offer its challenges, I know: not only the struggling through speaking and comprehending, but I will also be trying to shepherd fifteen (we are gaining one more student in the spring) independent little sheep. Think “freshman dorm.” Think “herding cats.” Think “hen yard at feeding time…” Pray for us. Pray for the students as they’ve scattered to
their homes after this life-transforming three months of school together. Pray for our reunion on Jan. 8. Also give thanks for some specific acts of God this fall: one student feels called to remain after the Bible School to work in full-time church planting in a churchless town. Another after being abandoned by her parents as a child has testified that she has come to
understand God’s acceptance for the first time ever. Another has struggled with suicide, another with an eating disorder, a third with life-blackening depression. Sometimes feet still drag on the ground a bit, but their gaze is fixed on the Life-giver Himself as they press on. Tiger eyes…

I can’t believe I’ve been here three months already. Two more weeks and my time with my host family is up. Oh, how I want them to know the wind of the Holy Spirit empowering them, how I want them to be racing toward the heavenly goal and not temporal, earthly pleasures!! Pray for tiger eyes here, too—not a “chasing after the wind,” but that they would “remember
their Creator in the days of their youth” – and Him not as a distant director of religious righteousness or something to take up and put down according to selfish whim, but as a personal, powerful, intimate Abba and Lord. “Anyone who is among the living has hope…” (Eccl. 9.4—also Eccl. 1.14, 12.1). I hope in confident expectation that God can and will save these beloved ones, my host family members. Miranda, the mother, is already
a believer but needs encouragement. Gjergji is the dad, Eva the eldest daughter (age 13), Ina the baby (age 10). The “Hound of Heaven” has tiger eyes. Pray with me that He catches His prize.

As for Bilisht and children’s ministry, I continue to be full of praise at the depth of discipleship the church leadership is doing with their members, especially their “middlers” group of 10-14 year olds. The kids do a Bible study on Friday afternoons then help lead the children’s program on Sat. morning based on that Bible study. Several are also beginning to learn
guitar, keyboard, or singing to help with the worship team. There are more adults in the church than I’ve seen before, too. Pray for their discipleship as well, that the members of both the Bilisht and the Erseke church will run with all-out effort, feet flying in rhythm to the Father’s heartbeat, with eyes fixed like the tiger’s.

Thanks, my friend. I miss you. Even in all these good things, even though I don’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now… I miss you. Enjoy for me the snow, the pink Alaska mountains, Little Gym “Show Week,” Christmas songs in your ears. I’m sending you a big hug and I’m praying also for you, that God would give you the grace to press on in His call on
your life, running like a tiger. Let us hold unswervingly to the faith we profess, for he who promised is faithful…(Heb 10.23).

God bless you,


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