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OCMC News - Three Days with the Kids at the Home of Hope in Albania

by Olin Perkins (Posted 7/11/2017)

OCMC News - Three Days with the Kids at the Home of Hope in Albania
OCMC Mission Team brings hope to the Home of Hope in Shen Vlash, Albania. This ministry of the Church cares for children whose families can't. OCMC has been sending teams to minister to these children for many years bringing with them the love of Christ and taking home smiles and wonderful memories.

The following is a compilation of reflections from Olin Perkins, OCMC Mission Team Member to Albania. It gives a wonderful insight into what he and his fellow team members experienced when they visited the children of the Home of Hope in Shen Vlash, Albania. This ministry of the Church provides a safe and loving sanctuary for children whose families are unable to care for them.

Day 1: Sunday

Faith binds us together. Ask any Orthodox Christian who has traveled abroad, and they'll tell you: it may be sung in a different language, but the service is the same. I couldn't translate what the children and Sister Laqel (Rachel) sang Sunday morning, but because I knew the Divine Liturgy, I still understood them. Divine Liturgy was held in the monastery of Shen Vlash (Saint Blaise). The Communists destroyed the sacred site during the cultural revolution in 1967 in their mission to make Albania an entirely atheistic nation, but His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios has worked hard with the local community to rebuild it. It's spacious enough for the kids to spread out if they wanted to, but they all stood in the front. Many went to the chanter’s stand to sing with Sister Laqel, who was trained in the Byzantine style in Athens. The service was a reminder that even when we're far from home, we have a home in Christ and in the Divine Liturgy we all share.

The Adriatic Sea is amazingly blue. The wind was too strong to take the children to the beach, but it was a beautiful day for a trip down the boardwalk in Durres. After we returned to the Home of Hope, we played games with the children. Tatiana gave manicures to all the girls, and we all relaxed and enjoyed unstructured play time with the kids. They are very good at chess. They have a game like checkers they call Dam, and Uno is especially popular with the smaller kids. Each familiar thing we share with the Albanians like chess or Uno is like a little wave from back home. It's a reminder that we are all people, no matter where we live, and we have more in common than we realize. Please keep us and the children of the Home of Hope in your prayers as we continue to do God's work in this land. Thank you for all your support and for making our time with the children possible. God bless.

Day 2: Monday

Today was the first day of camp! We read from the Bible and talked about the day's Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Patience. We sang the camp theme song, which Mary Ann Bulko adapted from the Byzantine Lamentations, and shared some times we've practiced patience in our lives at home. Then we split the children into different groups and started the smaller sessions. We had an ESL class, a music session, and arts & crafts projects. The ESL classes went over different parts of the body, and they sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" to help the children remember the new vocabulary. The arts and crafts project involved making little Fruits of the Holy Spirit and hanging them from plates to make mobiles. In the music session, Ela Evans and John-Vladimir Howry taught the children the song "But First They Had To Wait" and a dance they'd made to accompany it.

For the afternoon's sports activities, we took the kids to the Fusha, which is their gym area. We played Red Light Green Light with the little kids and had a relay race with the older ones. We wound things down at the end with a few games of Duck Duck Goose (or Jo Jo Po) then took them to the Home of Hope's chapel for Paraklesis. We still had some daylight left after the service, so we took the children outside for a little concert. Ela played her violin, Tatiana Speier read them the story of St. Romanos the Melodist, John-Vladimir sang, I sang, and the children all sang together. It was a good way to end the first day of camp. As Stevie Wonder said in his 1967 classic "Sir Duke," "Music is a world within itself / with a language we all understand / with an equal opportunity / for all to sing and dance and clap their hands." Monday was a lot of fun, and the lessons we taught them about patience will stay with them throughout their time here on earth. Thank you for giving us the chance to reach them, and please keep all of us at the Home of Hope in your prayers.

Day 3: Tuesday

Beach day! The kids all cheered when we told them about the day's excursion. There was barely a cloud in the sky when we arrived at the beach. The sand was warm, the ocean cool, and the umbrella's shade very refreshing. The great thing about this part of the beach, besides its proximity to the Home of Hope, is that it stays at the same shallow level for a good while before sloping off. This means that the children, most of whom don't know how to swim, can play without worry for the water being too deep. When the sun became too hot, we took them into the shade and played games like Uno, just enjoying the smell of the ocean and the sound of the gentle waves on the sand.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit we taught the children about today were Peace and Joy. We read Bible passages, and, like yesterday, we shared stories from our own lives of us practicing peace and joy to help give the kids examples of how to live the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. In ESL, the children picked from a selection of pictures and explained why that picture reminded them of joy or peace. In arts & crafts, they helped the children experience the Bible passage about Christ as the vine and us as the branches. They made little popsicle sticks of themselves to put in Christ's garden. At least three dressed their little stick figures in clergy robes, and one little boy proclaimed he wanted to be the Patriarch when he grew up. The children had heard some of us singing "The Angel Cried" and asked to learn it in music class, so that's what today's music class was dedicated to.

Camp has gone really well so far. These children come from very troubled homes, but you'd never know it from the way they laugh and dance and sing with us. The Home of Hope is a refuge, a place for them to grow in safety and in God, and to see them happy and safe is worth every step of this journey. This mission has been a humbling and joyous experience, and I pray that by teaching the children about the Fruits of the Spirit and bringing more love, hope, and happiness into their lives, we can help give them the strength to make it outside the Home of Hope. Thank you so much for your prayers, support, and good will. Please remember us as we continue to play with, teach, and learn from these wonderful children. Thank you, and God bless.

If you or anyone you know would like to experience Orthodox missions as part of an OCMC Mission Team, please contact Andy Lekos by phone at 904-829-5132, or by e-mail at teams@ocmc.org. Mission team opportunities still exist for 2017. See them all at https://www.ocmc.org/about/open_teams.aspx.

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God of truth and love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hear our prayer for those who do not know You. That they may come to a saving knowledge of the truth, and that Your Name may be praised among all peoples of the world. Sustain, inspire, and enlighten Your servants who bring them the Gospel. Bring fresh vigor to wavering faith; sustain our faith when it is still fragile. Continually renew missionary zeal in ourselves and in the Church, and raise up new missionaries who will follow You to the ends of the world. Make us witnesses to Your goodness full of love, full of strength, and full of faith for Your glory and the salvation of the entire world. Through the prayers of all the missionary saints, Have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
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