Roots and Eschatological Astonishment
Previously I had written to you about the blessings of uprootedness. The potential benefit of uprootedness is, as I said, a reset that shakes off everything that can be shaken to leave only the unshakable – that is, the Kingdom and rule of Christ in our hearts. On the other hand, I also have to agree with the late John Webster that no one can live long in a state of uprootedness, disconnected from that ecosystem from which essential life, that is, moral, intellectual and spiritual life must draw.
Although God spoke long ago in many parts and in many ways to the fathers by the prophets, in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world
Heb 1:1–2 (LEB)
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks at the Son and believes in him would have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
John 6:40 (LEB).
Moreover, towards this eschatological culture should converge all our instruments of identity, what we find meaningful, all our ideas and norms, and all our patterns of behavior. Let me illustrate using our church calendar: Why is it that so many Christians celebrate Christmas merely with Santa and Easter merely with eggs and pink bunnies? The simple reason is that they have not yet come to a deep eschatological astonishment at the incarnation so as to be reshaped culturally. This eschatological astonishment is what moves us to embrace new worshipful practices as deeply meaningful while at the same time discarding old ones as redundant and even irreconcilably foreign.
To be clear, this eschatological culture will of course very much still resemble Albanian, Swiss, American, or South African culture, but it will always emerge as something counter-cultural and subversive because of legitimate fundamental tensions bringing offense. This is unavoidable but by no means a bad thing or even Divinely unintended since attraction and repulsion is what the Gospel of God’s Kingdom treks through this world (2 Cor 2:15-16).
Ok, thus far our musings over Kingdom, calling and culture…
A glimpse of our surroundings
One thing we’ve recently taken up again is to go for an early run in the neighborhood. This, to be sure, is not a thing people regularly. And so, we are often met only with confused stares from balconies and coffee shops. Yet, as we all know, stares only last so long if you keep greeting people friendly. And so, every morning people become more interactive little by little, so much so that yesterday morning an old gentleman even greeted us very excitedly with a ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ as he proudly pointed to his own bicycle to show that he’s also into this stuff. Physical exercise indeed has some value.
Moving around in the neighborhood like this of course also gives us a glimpse into what people value and how they go about with their lives. It’s one big homeschooling project for us. The pictures below are from us biking that same route with the kids.
In the picture to the left are a group of older gentlemen playing board games and cards together. This was around 5PM. Most men go down to the coffee shops this time of the day and stay there until around 7 or 8 PM. We are yet to understand what intimate family time looks like in Albania. We’ve always assumed it a global given that 5-8PM is sacred family time, but here things clearly operate differently.
The middle picture shows a goat ewe and her kids in an open area between two houses. No guards, no shepherds. Just quiet grazing all day long. Albania really has low levels of petty or opportunistic crime.
And then the picture to the right. This is towards the end of our neighborhood where we also turn around on our run. Yes, what you see there is open sewage. We used to talk about these types of scenes a lot when we arrived, but we soon realized that we had to grow up to reality and move on in our thought-life. We after all did not come to Albania to have our senses tantalized.
Living the Christian life together requires a critical mass of people who together deeply appreciate the primacy of the Kingdom, or in the words I used earlier, who together live with that eschatological astonishment. With all that has happened since the earthquake, the pandemic, and the Kona family being stuck in the US, life together has taken a bit of a knock. It is our prayer that God would strengthen (yes, astound again!) this critical mass in our congregation so that graces like Sunday worship and Wednesday prayer meeting would begin to make sense to everyone else also.
We all know how much sanctification and time it sometimes takes for us to purely root our identity in Christ. We also know that one’s history (or non-history) can sometimes rule his/her self-perception for a long time, even after coming to Christ in the most profound ways. This is no different for the younger Christians in our congregation.
Prayer for our congregation
Please pray that we would together live with eschatological astonishment.
Pray also with us that good theology along with exemplary living will address as well as undermine sinful life and thought patterns (Rom 12:1-2)
Martin Bucer Seminary (MBS)
You may recall from our first news update that MBS-Germany had been willing to temporarily extend their connection with MBS-Albania for another year because they had found me to serve as local academic dean and act as a bridge between the two entities. Last month I had a three-hour conversation with the academic dean of MBS and now understand much better the difficulties and challenges feeding into their initial decision to pull out of Albania. The good news is that nothing of what was conveyed to me seems insurmountable.
I also begun the enjoyable task of connecting closer with the students themselves. What is clear to me from our conversations is that they have a strong eagerness to study and an earnest desire to utilize whatever help I can provide them. And with this is not merely meant academic help. The students seem to understand very well that academic, spiritual and pastoral insights work synergistically to mature them into good and faithful servants and shepherds in God’s Kingdom.
Prayer for the work at MBS
Please pray for these five students as they desire to mature into Albania’s future church leaders.
Pray they will fully embrace God’s calling on their lives, comprehend its immensity as well as the cost to them.
Pray also that God would supply all their needs.
Finally, the one thing that has been heavy on me so far is that these students are significantly disadvantaged when it comes to research resources. There is no respectable library to speak of nor any Amazon or ThriftBooks to order from. The only real option is access to the research library from Logos. If you want to know more about these five students and perhaps get more closely involved with them, please connect with me on this.
Life and language learning
Going to church when everyone else is speaking in tongues is difficult. Imagine walking hungry past a closed pastry shop with all the goodies displayed inches away from you in the window. That is almost how it is for us. We are right there, almost tasting the goodies. Yet the language barrier is like a double-pane window that cuts us off from all the tasty stuff.
Our tutor thinks we are doing quite well with the language, but I think he just likes us. The reality is that we have life to live while learning language as we go. Things are going to take some time, that is for sure.
On the upside, we really are enjoying learning Albanian. We are frustrated in a good way that we can’t yet really use it though. We do get by in the stores and markets and use whatever words and phrases we can recall. We are grateful that people are always very accommodating and helpful.
Prayer for our interactions
Please pray for our language-learning and that God would open ways for us to connect with people while we struggle with Albanian.
Please pray for our neighbors and their children, that we are able to connect with them, even if for now not with many words.
Another place where language of course is also making life difficult is with our neighbors. Our landlady, her daughter-in-law and grandson are especially heavy on our hearts. We recently discovered more of their horrifying past and are beginning to understand the extent of sin’s destructive work in their family. While we cannot say much in this letter, it is our plea that you please pray with us for them – that the Gospel would reach their hearts. We don’t know how God may use us despite the language thing, but we are eager to see Him work and bring deliverance, repentance and healing.
Here are some things to thank the Lord for:
- Euodia now has full access to all her medicinal needs and the related costs were in fact quite close to what we were told last year. You will appreciate for instance that, while one month supply of growth hormone for her would be more than $2500 in the US, here in Albania we are getting it at cost price, which is only $440.
- Despite our difficulties with language, Euodia and I are doing well spiritually. Though we wrestle with many things, we can honestly say that we do not feel far from the Lord. We are deeply grateful for this above all things!
- As a family, our family devotion has been taking on real shape over the past few months since we started working our way through Scripture starting at Deuteronomy. This week we started with 1Kings. Reading together through these sometimes rough and heart-wrenching passages brings us together in wonderful ways. Come to think of it, it is slowly working to bring about that communal eschatological astonishment I spoke of earlier.
- Culture shock is not much of a topic for us anymore. We are grateful for the marvelous work God has done to change our focus and so also our conversation about Albania and the people around us.
As you present your needs before the Lord, please pray for the following ones we have also:
- Please pray that we as a congregation would together live with eschatological astonishment. Please pray with us that our good theology and exemplary living will address and undermine sinful life and thought patterns (Rom 12:1-2)
- Please pray for the five MBSA students as they desire to mature into Albania’s future church leaders. Pray they will fully embrace God’s calling on their lives, comprehend its immensity as well as the cost to them. Pray also that God would supply all their needs.
- Please continue to pray for our immediate relationships with our neighbors, especially with the landlady and her family.
- Please continue to pray for us to think responsibly as we seek to raise Nadya and Yehoshua. We are particularly concerned about how to school them, friendships and the dynamics of language and culture. Please pray for wisdom, and trust in God for their futures.
- Please continue to pray for Mauritz as he needs to juggle language learning, ordination exams, MBS and ministry in Durrës
- Please pray for our language-learning and that God would open ways for us to connect with people while we struggle with Albanian.
- Finally, please continue to pray for our financial sustainability as our targeted monthly income is still at around 80% (see our financial page). Please pray that all the finances pledged would easily find its way to us.
Astounded together in Christ,
The Bezuidenhoudt family in Albania