News from Missionaries in Albania

Dear Friends and Fellow Servants in the Lord,

The Grace and Peace of Christ be with you always.

After being in the mission field for 22 months, Albania is beginning to feel like home. After countless hours of language learning we are both able to participate in meetings (in Albanian) and understand the majority of what is going on! It feels like a big accomplishment and makes work easier. Following local customs is also becoming second nature and takes less conscious thought. 

Here is an update on our ministries.

PhotographyScreen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.37.56 PM

Part of being a missionary is being ready to work hard and master new responsibilities. A perfect example of this is Alexandria’s job as photographer for the Church. It is amazing to think that one year ago Alexandria did not know what an aperture was, how it was related to shutter speed, and why shooting in RAW is best. So, why is this important? Archbishop Anastasios says that the internet is the pulpit of today. To have an effective presence in today’s internet you need quality pictures. This job dovetails nicely with Stephanos being a Deacon as we can travel with the Archbishop and both have work to do.  One of our most memorable journeys was when we traveled to Southern Albania for a weekend to serve and photograph not one, but two consecrations! We borrowed the MacDonald’s (fellow missionaries in Albania) 4X4, did some research to find the GPS locations of the churches and then found a campsite in Ksamil with a view of the Ionian Sea as our base camp for the weekend. We arrived back in Tirana exhausted but renewed.

(Visit www.OrthodoxAlbania.org for more coverage of the consecrations.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.37.59 PMBeing a Deacon

The culmination of this past year was Epiphany. Epiphany in Albania is an amazing experience. There is a cultural memory that lies deep within the Albanian people that this is a Holy Day. The Cathedral was full for Liturgy. After the services, Archbishop Anastasios had the Deacons take shifts at the Cathedral to help give Holy Water to the people and to explain what this feast is about. I was amazed at the constant flow of people who streamed into the Cathedral; coming to fill bottles with Holy Water and receive a blessing. This cultural memory extends even further than that. Later that night while walking home, a group of men on the side of the street saw me in my in my robe and asked if we could sit and drink a cup of tea together. They all knew about Epiphany, but were from a Muslim background. Despite that, they wanted some of the Holy Water. We spent the next 1/2 hour discussing Orthodoxy. What a blessing to be here!

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.38.03 PMDiakonia Agape and Young Adult Ministry

Over the last few years, young adults from around the country have met for weekend workshops about community mobilization, fundraising, and stewardship of the environment organized through Diakonia Agape (the Church’s philanthropic office). The fruits of these trainings have been cleanups and fundraising initiatives carried out by the young adults around the country (In 2013-2014 the young adults raised over 5000$). This year, the focus will be on training the students in some basics of pastoral care. After this training on pastoral care, we will fundraise for the Church’s soup kitchens and then attempt to forge a regular partnership where the young adults will help serve at the soup kitchens.

Missiology at the Seminary 

This step of training the future leaders of the Church of Albania in Missiology is a key step in maturation of the Church. The students in Dn. Stephanos’ Mission’s Class have been engaged by the topic and all of them are averaging above 80% in the class. This is an amazing experience: one day of the week teaching the Missiology of Archbishop Anastasios, the next day serving Liturgy together with His Beatitude. 

Bible & Book Studies

One thing Dn Stephanos remembers from being a child here in Albania was Bible Studies in the Ritsi house. After a 20 year hiatus, this tradition has begun again. Through Archbishop Anastasios’ guidance, we have started a Bible study and a women’s book study in our house. It is already apparent how much deeper of a relationship this form of ministry can give. It is humbling to hear the life stories of some of these youth. Stories such as becoming Christian and being fired from their job at a Halal Pizzeria or of sneaking out of their house on Sunday to not anger their atheist roommates. It reminds us that being a missionary involves much sacrifice, but so does being a Christian in Albania.

Youth Office 

Dn. Stephanos’ work continues at the Zyra Rinise. One of our major goals for this year is to Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.38.08 PMrestart the publication of the Kambanat magazine for young adults. We are also working on creating a website with resources for young adults as well as information about the weekly meetings. Attendance at Sunday meetings and Paraklesis has steadily grown over

the past year and now we have a group of about 40-70 at our meetings.

resurrection: The orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania, Book II

We have begun to work on the Addendum to this book. We have collected thousands of pictures from the Synodical offices and are categorizing them. This Spring we hope to start forming the chapters and writing the text for the book.

Alexandria’s English Classes

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.38.12 PMAlexandria continues to teach English at the Protagonist School in Tirana (A private school operated by the Orthodox Church). She is teaching 6th and 8th grades. Teaching 8th grade has been a challenge, but Alexandria enjoys being in the classroom and helping the students. Learning languages is a point of emphasis in Albania and the Protagonist strives to remain on the cutting edge of the private school sector by employing as many native language teachers as it can. 

Baby

As many of you know, Alexandria is pregnant! It is difficult being away from family and friends during the pregnancy and so much is different. However, many of the hardships end up being blessings. Not having a car and is a great way to stay active. Lacking access to so many of the foods we are accustomed to means we eat less processed food.  One of the biggest differences is the health care. The care that is given is very good, but it is also very different then what is expected in the US. The glucose test here consisted of half a cup of table sugar, they don’t weigh you during your appointments, there are no blood pressure tests, etc! Through all this we thank God that the pregnancy is going well. The baby is really moving and we are convinced he is going to be a better runner then Dn. Stephanos.

 Challenges

One of the greatest challenges the Church is facing involves the fence that surrounds the Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 3.38.16 PMCathedral Center. The government has informed the Church that we are required to tear down our fence. This land was given to the Church and a beautiful wrought iron fence was erected. Despite the presence of this fence and the protection of a security guard, the Church has already been vandalized. What is even more concerning than potential vandalism is the precedent that this could set in the relationship between Church and State. We are working diligently to resolve this issue, but we need your prayers.

Furlough in the USA-

Following God’s Will

It’s hard to believe, but we have been in Albania for almost two years now! We will be coming back to the States for furlough in September/October 2015. We look forward to visiting as many of your communities as possible so that we can share the work that God is doing in Albania.

We need your help to continue this important ministry. If you are able to support us in this ministry to Albania, please call (877)463-6784 or go online www.ocmc.org/theritsifamily


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Stephanos Ritsi, son of Father Martin & Presvytera Renee, grew…
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