It was late. Anthony, Besi and i had been showing the Turkey-Croatia European football (soccer) match on the wall of Spiro’s restaurant. (Big place, mostly for weddings. Must seat about 25% of the village.) It had gone into extra time, then penalty kicks. Turkey won. Is Turkey in Europe? Nevermind, too late to discuss that. So after packing up, we were ready to go, except for the usual wrestling match over who would pay for what. About four of us engaged in 5 minutes or so of shouting, pushing others away and throwing our money over the counter to Spiro and his wife, each of us insisting we were picking up the tab. Meanwhile, Spiro threw it back, insisting that nobody was going to pay for anything — it’s a beautiful charade that has a lot of connection with Albanian hospitality. One of my favourite moves, not to be used too often, is the throwing of one’s money onto the floor. I’m not sure, but I think this means, “if you’re not going to accept this, this money has no value to me. Do not shame me by refusing.” Like I say, it seems you have to pick your spots with that one, whereas, grabbing other people’s arms and pushing their money back toward their pocket can be used without any fear of overkill. Somehow Spiro gets enough cash out of these episodes to be one of the richest men in the village. Anyway, that done, we were bumping along the road from Jub to Katund i Ri and, ultimately, Sukth in the old church VW van. It jars the bones, even at only a few miles per hour. We were tired and mentally berating the Croatians for giving away the game in the last minute, sending it to extra time, when Besi turned to me — “Brian, in 5 years, when we are enjoying the church in Jub, imagine what we are going to think about these nights.”
“I’ll still this road”, I replied.
But he’s right, I’ll love the memories. Here’s what I wrote, back in October 2006, to some friends about what was then a slightly fragile church in Sukth:
Chicken of the Sea
We went for the second week running to Sukth, this afternoon. The Durres church has started a congregation in this village. Five years ago, we sent a youth team from our church to Durres and this is one place where they went house to house, visiting non-believers, sharing their faith. Christina, our daughter, was on it. We’ve sent other groups since in 2004 and 2005. The church started early this year, I believe. They have 15 or 20 people in their orbit, but for the past two weeks it has been about 7 or 8 plus our contingent of 8 from Durres. Today it was 3 men and 5 women from the village. Three of the women were Audrey’s age (forty-something!) or up, and the rest under 30, including a newlywed couple, wife aged 17. Welcome to village life. We met in a grim, bare, one-story, flat-roofed house, about 40 chairs crammed into one room in precise rows. The floor was bare concrete, and immaculately clean. The song books were falling apart. As it got dark outside, I realised they don’t have electricity in the house, so it got darker and darker inside. After a few songs, Miri, a local farmer and elder in the Durres church (of which Sukth is considered a sub-set for now) preached on Luke 12, Jesus’ parable about the man who unwisely sought security from his massive barns and pleasure from his merry lifestyle. Miri opened by telling of how he once planted 30 hectares in a ‘get rich quick’ scheme which did not work. I was conscious that I was by far the richest person in the room. Outside, six or eight of the neighbour’s turkeys prowled around (pula deti — chicken of the sea, so named because they originally arrived in Albania from afar on ships, apparently). A few kids would come inside, peek in the door while we sang or listened to Miri, then run off, chicken of the church, in a child-like way. It was Audrey’s first visit, as she missed last week. “Everyone in our church ought to visit this place, she concluded. Just eight people, but getting on with church.” I was on those 2004 and 2005 teams. People thought we were turkeys, since we did things like tidy up the school for free (Albanian traditional value — only a stupid person works for no personal gain). It was hot and hard. The kind of place you imagine Jesus tramping through, where the villagers had their traditions and were getting on just fine, thanks, without the likes of Him, even if life was a bit grim and survival very difficult. I thought of that young couple, now with hope in a hopeless place. I’m glad those teenagers from our church weren’t chicken of the village. –
– October 30, 2006
I think we had 20 locals last week at the worship in Sukth. They are fired up about Jub. The women want to do more visits to Jub to evangelise. Has your church doubled in the past two years like the one in Sukth? I wonder why nobody writes best-sellers like The Poverty-Driven Church.