This month, I will be taking a departure from my regular college counseling blogpost. However, before I get to that, let me say one or two things about the month of March and college applications: it is a month of waiting. Basically, we are in a bit of a holding pattern as colleges finalize their decisions. Students, you have worked hard and I’m excited for each of you as the application process comes to an end with the arrival of RD outcomes. Parents, I hope that you will continue to encourage and support your children in what can be a stressful month as decisions come out. Let’s not wait with trepidation or anxiety, but with hope and confidence, knowing that God has a plan. In the words of Corrie Ten Boom: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” So let’s all wait well, moving from strength to strength as we wait on the Lord.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.”
– Corrie Ten Boom
What I wanted to share in this blogpost is about the recent SBS mission trip to Albania over spring break. I was part of a team of 13 that departed from JFK on Friday, February 17th. We had no idea what would happen, but God sure did.
When we landed in Albania, I could hardly believe we were there. Growing up, there were two countries I was taught that were so closed off to the rest of the world: Albania and North Korea. In 1992 Communism came to an end in Albania, trumped by the Democratic Party in national elections. Albania thus became much more open to the world. And that’s how The Stony Brook School embarked on a mission trip to Albania…God opened the door.
The dominant theme of the week was flexibility! Although we had a vague idea of what we would be doing, plans often changed, and we had to adapt. I have never been so proud of our students; their ability to be flexible was astounding. Often, we needed to change the composition of our teams, divide our teams, go to places where no one spoke English and in general, just wait for the next set of instructions. Students were challenged to think on their feet and come up with the next thing…quickly. Every time, they were up for the challenge. And God blessed their willingness to just put their hands in His and go with Him wherever He called them to go.
Here’s a brief summary of the week:
- We worked with 3 pastors in 3 different areas of Albania teaching English, leading youth events and interacting with Albanian students.
- Students were asked to do presentations in front of the class. Or come up with a skit. Or maybe a game. Basically, they were asked to do many things, often without much advanced notice.
- The Albanian students and teachers were really excited to have the opportunity to dialogue with American students. They enjoyed learning English from native speakers and learning about American culture.
- During the last few days, some students had the opportunity to share the gospel with a group of Albanian teens. One student was able to give the bible to a tutor at one of the schools where we worked.
- We also had time as a team to do devotions, have discussions, pray together, do some sightseeing and of course, eat a lot of great food!
I asked the students to share about what God did in them and through them on this trip:
“At the beginning of this school year, I honestly did not think I would be spending 10 days in Albania. But I am so happy I did. The team I worked with blessed my life so much and it was amazing to see everyone grow closer to God and to each other. The people were amazing; Albania will always have a very special place in my heart.”
“Here I was, clutching a trash can, staring at the ceiling praying the night before we left for Albania. Lo and behold I recovered (from illness) just in time. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not have come on this life-changing trip without the prayers of my family, the 12 who came on this trip, plus my parents, of course. The trip was an amazing one, where God was truly at work.” -Thomas, sophomore
“Albania was one of the best experiences I have had during my four years at Stony Brook. I could not have asked to be a part of a better team. It was amazing how God perfectly put together the trip, and I am so glad I got to be a part of it.” -Rachel, junior
“There are no words to describe the Albania trip and in no way am I trying to be cheesy or cliche, but rather it reveals the radical ways in which God allowed us to learn and grow. “The pain that you are feeling cannot compare to the joy that’s coming.” This is something that I have learned to hold onto and found to be true during this trip. And amidst the anxieties and worries that weigh me down I have learned to rest in His unending grace and love and have grown a desire to share this radical love with others. The Albania trip was incredible. It allowed me to learn more about myself, God and my fellow teammates. I believe this prepared us for a greater calling awaiting us when we return back home.” -Becky, junior
“Why Albania?” This was a question that I frequently asked myself in the weeks leading up to this trip. Although I knew that God was drawing me toward a higher purpose for this year, for a long time I was completely unaware of how God was going to lead me towards that purpose, or even what that purpose was. When this opportunity presented itself I had no doubt that this was how God wanted to lead me and that this was His plan for me. This was his big unveiling. As I fly back home from this trip I have come to the conclusion that I was both right and wrong in making that assumption. I was right in thinking that this was in God’s plan. But I was very wrong in expecting that this experience was going to be a sort of spiritual climax, like that of a story. I have come to realize that God had no intention of sending me to Albania to have some great, life-renewing experience, and then put a full stop at the end. The significance of God’s story for our lives is that, although there are moments when you feel as though you have reached a “spiritual climax”, the plot is always building, the setting always changing, and characters are usually rotating. All of this to say that Albania was indeed an extraordinary part of a growing experience, but that experience is still not over and I have so much more to hope for. So, “why Albania?” I think it is because God wanted to show me that no matter how far and wide He takes me to serve and to love, it cannot alter the fact that my spiritual growth is only relative to Him and not where I am. I am still discovering His purpose and I still have much work to be done, in me and through me.” -Gift, junior
“Nothing was as expected. Everything I had imagined about the trip was completely different. Albania was an incredible experience and allowed me to grow as a person, discover my strength and weaknesses, and grow closer to God. The team God put together was definitely not an accident and I am so thankful for the experiences we all shared together. It is definitely something we won’t forget.” -Cianka, senior
“All of this was borne on a bus ride out of Kathmandu. The tiny variables that lined this trip up in such a beautiful way amaze me at the moment. Our wonderful partnership with Reign Ministries has brought about something I hope is continued for years to come. The people on the streets of Albania were cold and harsh. Smiles from person to person or a friendly “hello” was plainly not seen. But the moment, it was one-on-one, they opened up with an immense amount of love and excitement.” -Joshua, senior
It’s hard to summarize all that God did on this trip. As you can tell from the students’ statements, the trip impacted each of them in a unique and powerful way. What I can say is that no one came back from this trip unchanged. And whether it was God growing a heart for a country like Albania, or learning to work on a team with people different from you, overcoming a deep fear of speaking in front of a crowd or even dealing with your intense fear of flying overseas (that would be me), God met us and changed us.
As a college counselor, I often get to see transformation happen in the lives of students over their four years in high school. What was so great about this trip was that it was like four years condensed into 10 days. I saw God bringing about change in students in a short time. I witnessed the unity of a team develop. Students who weren’t excited about being up front gained confidence as they were called upon to teach lessons they didn’t have much time to prepare for. It was okay; God really did give them the words they needed to speak. For other students, they were struggling with sickness, but rallied and gained strength to fulfill the ministry given to them.
Perhaps most touching of all, and maybe because it happened over and over again, I saw students caring deeply for each other. They spoke words of encouragement when another person needed it. They offered to carry each other’s things when someone was tired. New friendships were formed because they were willing to take a risk and get to know someone they didn’t know so well when they had been at school. Mere acquaintances became true brothers and sisters in Christ. We became the kind of Christian community that God wants for all of us.
The changes also came as they ministered to the Albanian students. Students who weren’t natural speakers found courage to be up front and teach. Others who weren’t confident thinking on their feet came up with lessons and ideas in a short amount of time. Students who were normally in charge rallied behind quieter students, wanting to give them opportunities to shine. What I loved most was watching our SBS students find ways to communicate with the Albanian students despite the language barriers. Opportunities to depend on God to bridge this gap presented themselves over and over. Whether it was teaching English, sharing a meal, or challenging someone to a ping pong game, students were able to find ways to reach across barriers. Somehow, communication happened, even to the point of being able to share the gospel.
Over the ten days in Albania, I was reminded of the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” God used both our words and our actions to communicate the love of Christ to the Albanian students and to one another.
“Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
– St. Francis of Assisi
Thank you to each and every one of you who supported this team, both financially and especially in prayer. God certainly heard your prayers! The trip was amazing. And while I realize that it’s a bit cliche to say that, it’s the only word that describes this mission trip. Simply amazing. But then…we know and serve an amazing God.
To God be the glory, great things He has done.