a session of the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue in Iceland which Nathan participated in this spring
See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 15-18)
I am sitting in my Land Rover under the shade of a tree in the yard of the Hilmi Hoti school in Kosovo. I am surrounded by the bustle of some 200 children from the second of five camps which we will be leading here this summer between June 27 and July 21. Each camp will last 4 days, and all together they will include approximately 1800 children. Each year we have a theme, an important quality that we wish to help the children cultivate in their lives. This year's theme is gratitude. On each day of the camp we discuss an aspect of this theme and teach about it through the use of a drama. On the first day we talk about saying thank you to all those around us who help us in so many ways. On the second day we speak about being grateful for all the good things we have in life. The following day we discuss being grateful even in difficult situations. The closing day of the camp we have a festival in which the children present songs, poems, and dramas they have prepared, often on the theme of the camp.
The text from 1 Thessalonians above is our theme verse for our 24 member staff of Orthodox young people from Albania. It reminds us that gratitude is not just something to talk about with the children but is a deeply Christian virtue which we must strive to cultivate in our own lives.
During our time in Kosovo we will also be visiting many friends, both Serb and Albanian, around the country. A high point is always our visit to the Decani monastery. This spring marks 10 years since the war here and it is our eighth year doing these camps. We have seen many changes, perhaps the most visible of which is the opening of a new road between Tirana and Prishtina this month, which cuts the travel time in half, as well as dramatically reducing wear and tear on both people and automobiles. A generous grant from the Agape Canister program helped fund this program this year.
2009 Travel calendar
I traveled to Belgium the end of December to be a godparent to the son of some very dear friends of ours. The beginning of February took me to Greece to attend the General Assembly of Syndesmos (The World Federation of Orthodox Youth Movements and Seminaries). I was invited as a resource person especially to work with the stewards group, which served the assembly in a variety of ways. Syndesmos, though not well known in the US, is a important organization drawing together Orthodox young people from around the world. If you are involved with youth, I would encourage you to look them up at www.syndesmos.org and see how you can become involved.
The first week of April I participated in a consultation held in Geneva to give direction to the Council of European Churches (CEC) mission desk. I was able to combine this trip with a reunion in Milan with three of my college housemates. All of us are now serving as missionaries in different countries around the world. It was a real joy and blessing to share and pray together.
I was in Iceland the first week of May to participate in a preparatory meeting for the theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran World Federation. I prepared a paper for this meeting entitled "The Nature of the Church." We prepared a draft statement which will be the basis of the work of the next 15th plenary meeting of this commission.
The end of May took Gabriela and me to St. Augustine for the dedication of the new Mission Center. It was a joy to see the interest and enthusiasm on behalf of so many for the work of missions. We pray that the new center will be a catalyst for a new awakening of the apostolic consciousness in the Orthodox Church and a surge of productive missions activity around the world.
I participated in a conference on New and Emerging Mission Movements in Europe the second week of June. This was a relatively small gathering of people directly involved in missions in Europe. It was sponsored by the Council of European Churches (CEC) and was hosted at a Lutheran seminary in Pullach, Germany. I was able to present the work of OCMC and the amazing resurrection of the Church of Albania. It was a very profitable time in which the participants learned from and were encouraged by one another.
At times it has seemed that I do not really live in Albania but that I have been visiting it from various locations. I struggle with being away from the ministries in Albania and my family so often, but I feel that each of these trips is an important opportunity to learn and to contribute to the cause of missions.
University and Children's Ministry Team
Ministry to children and university students continues to be very strategic for the future of Albania. We have the privilege of working together with a team of talented and zealous young Albanians in these ministries. This has been a year of both development and struggle. In October we switched the weekly children's program at the Cathedral in Tirana from Saturday to Sunday. This was a very positive development, and we have averaged between 60 and 70 children each week. We also have weekly ministries at five other locations in Tirana. Gabriela spends many hours each week preparing the lessons and craft projects which are used in the centers.
We tried to start a Sunday program at the second church in Tirana (St. Prokopi) this spring, but so far this has not been successful. Though over 100 adults attend church there, there are only two or three children, and their parents are not willing to arrange their schedules so that the children can attend the catechism program. We tried bringing groups of children from other centers, which do not have churches close by, to jumpstart the program, but still we could not spark interest with the parents to bring their children to church.
The YBC program of the children's office which publishes our catechism curriculum has progressed well with the publication of two new books with teachers' manuals this year. This program is largely funded by Worldvision: you may have seen the beautiful article in their magazine about the program in Albania.
Please pray for the staff of these ministries, that they would be deeply committed to Christ and work together as members of his body to reach out in love to children and university students. Especially pray for them over the course of the next year, as they will face special challenges while we are on home assignment in the United States.
We were very blessed this spring with a two-week visit from Father Tom Hopko to Albania. He came under the new Mission Specialist program of the OCMC. During his time in Albania, he led a conference for clergy, a retreat for University students, gave a number of Bible studies and lectures, and collaborated with the OCMC short-term Mission Team to Albania on a training conference for camp leaders and catechism workers. Our souls were nourished by many hours talking with him and benefiting from his wisdom and insight.
The Resurrection of Christ Seminary
I have continued teaching patrology at the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy this year. I very much enjoy the opportunity to study the church fathers and introduce new generations of students to them. This past year I taught patrology to a combined group of second and third year students. Please pray for the seminary, that the students and teachers would be inspired and inspiring, in order to train the next generation of leaders to proclaim the Gospel in Albania. Enrollment has fallen dramatically over the past few years to approximately half what it was six years ago. This has also meant that the school can be far less selective in the candidates which it accepts. Please pray that new workers will be inspired to enter the harvest fields. The seminary would greatly benefit from a new Missionary with academic credentials who could teach and mentor the students. Please pray that such a person would be raised up to work in Albania.
After 11 years of ministry in Albania, we will be returning to the US in August for one year of home assignment before returning to the field. During this time we will be headquartered in Minnesota, where the children will be attending the same school they went to during Lynette's illness. Our time will be divided between a variety of responsibilities. I will be in regular contact with Albanian coworkers and OCMC missionary team members to ensure continuity in our ministries. I will be returning to the Mediterranean for most of October in order to participate in the meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, followed by the meeting of The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church. I will also make a brief visit to Albania. I will be working together with the staff of OCMC to develop a series of mission events in metropolitan areas around the US in order to promote the work of missions and rebuild our support team. Please let us know if you would be interested in helping to arrange one of these events. Gabriela is planning to begin work on a Masters degree in Children and Family Ministry. In addition, we hope to find some time for prayer, study, rest, and reflection in order to reinvigorate us for continuing ministry in Albania. We also hope to spend some special time with Tristan and Katherine to compensate for the long absences mandated by our ministry schedule. We are joyfully expecting a new addition to our family with the birth of a child in January. Please pray for a good pregnancy and safe delivery for Gabriela. Please pray that this would be a productive time and that we would be renewed spiritually and physically for our return to Albania.
I opened this letter with the theme of gratitude, and I will close by saying thank you to all of you who pray for us and support us in so many ways. We feel truly blessed to be your representatives in this ministry. We ask that you continue to pray for and support us during this time of home Ministry. We hope that we will have the opportunity to see many of you personally during travels in the US in the coming year.
Nathan for all the Hoppe Family
410 6th St. NW
Plainview, MN 55964-1052