Twelve months ago I was in the region of Kosovo leading a group of 25 young people doing camps for about 1800 children. This was a very intense time. These camps are part of the social and philanthropic work of the Orthodox Church of Albania reaching out to children traumatized by the effects of war in their region. The program was made more challenging by the fact that my wife Gabriela was about three months pregnant and suffering severe morning sickness. Despite throwing up several times each morning and coping with severe nausea throughout the day, she worked side-by-side with me in the grueling schedule to lead our team of volunteers.
We were looking forward to the birth of our baby in January and also to returning to the United States for a year of home assignment beginning in August of 2009. Often home assignment is called furlough and is thought of somewhat like an extended vacation. In reality, though, we hoped that there would be some time for reading, reflection and prayer to recharge our spiritual and physical batteries in preparation for returning to Albania, we knew it would be a busy and challenging time. In addition to preparing for the birth of our baby in January, Gabriela was planning to begin a Masters degree in Children's and Family Ministry.
Our ministry to the church in the United States
Though these things were important, the real thing that brought us back to the US for such a long period of time was the fact that we had a mission to the church in North America. We are profoundly aware of the reality of our Lord's words that "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few." We are overwhelmed by the tremendous opportunities in Albania and the limited resources that we have to meet them. Truly, we have the opportunity to impact the future of the Church in Albania for the next century.
Our mission was to call the Orthodox Church in North America to greater faithfulness to our Lord Jesus Christ by obeying His command to make disciples of all nations. It was our desire that, by sharing the miracle of the resurrection of the Church of Albania in which we have had the privilege of participating, more people would be inspired to enter long-term missionary service. We also needed to rebuild our own support team so that we can continue service in Albania. It is very important that we have a team of people who pray for us regularly. We also need pledges of regular financial support to meet the total cost of our salary and expenses for our next two-year term of service. As long-term missionaries, we are required to raise 100% of our support through donations designated for the "Hoppe Family."
On the road in North America
Over the past 12 months, I have traveled coast-to-coast by airplane and have logged many thousands of miles in our minivan, speaking at several dozen churches. On some occasions I traveled by myself, but I have often been accompanied by Gabriela and the children. This experience has been exciting and deeply rewarding. It has been wonderful to visit so many churches and see the deep faith and love of God's people. I have been repeatedly humbled by the sacrificial support which has been offered for the work in Albania.
On one of my trips, driving from Chicago to Indianapolis, I stopped at a nursing home to visit an elderly woman. She is someone that I barely know, but I was not visiting her as an act of philanthropy, I went there to say thank you. This woman is not wealthy, but she has supported our work in Albania monthly for many years. She is now in her 90s with failing eyesight and hearing, but she is still zealous in her support of missions. She began supporting my grandparents when they went to Africa as missionaries in the 1930s, she has supported my parents for over 40 years in their missionary work in South America, and now she continues to support us. She has faithfully supported missionaries each month for almost 70 years.
One Sunday in Lent, I visited perhaps the smallest Orthodox Church in a major metropolitan area. This church met in a small rented space, a storefront which had been converted into a church inside. They were perhaps 30 families. The priest works mostly as a volunteer, earning his living in a secular job because the church cannot afford to pay him. I gave the homily during liturgy and presented my PowerPoint about Albania in coffee hour. The people listened with great attention. After my presentation members of the parish council met together and within a few minutes they came and announced to me that they would make a pledge of $50 per month to support the proclamation of the Gospel in Albania. The people were very apologetic that they could do so little but said that this is all they can afford right now. I was flooded with gratitude. In reality, this small donation will add up to $1200 over the next two years plus significant gifts that were given at the time of my visit. We are grateful for one time gifts, but in order to sustain missionary work it is necessary to have partners who pledge ongoing support.
I must admit to feeling discouraged at times. While I am very excited about the privilege of participating in God's harvest, it is hard for me to understand why so few are willing to respond to his call to become long-term missionaries. There are still 1.8 billion people, 28% of the world's population, that have never heard the Gospel. Each time I present the work in Albania I appeal for more missionaries to come and help us respond to this historic opportunity and to go to the many other fields where similar opportunities await.
The Unfinished Mission
On August 2 we returned to Albania. Our ministry in the church in North America continues through all who are part of our support team. We are still not fully funded for the next two years of ministry in Albania. We ask you to prayerfully consider joining our support team by praying for us regularly and pledging a monthly gift over the next two years. Without your support we will not be able to sustain the ministry which God has called us to in Albania. We also ask you to consider joining the team of missionaries taking the Gospel to the world. As the missionary spirit is rekindled in the Orthodox Church of North America, it will be more fully and deeply Orthodox and more able to transform North America for the glory of God.