He was made manifest in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of his father for the salvation of us men. (St. Athanasius On the Incarnation)
As we enter again into the season of Advent, the preparation for the coming of our Lord, I have the privilege of teaching On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius to my students at the Resurrection of Christ Theological Academy. It is wonderful to be reminded again of the incredible, multifaceted truth of the Incarnation, His work and sacrifice on our behalf, and the salvation that He won for us, all flowing simply from His love for us. My students are reading On the Incarnation, in an Albanian translation, and we are discussing it in detail together. I strongly believe that the firmest foundation for the future Church of Albania is for its future leaders to have a deep and living personal contact with the Scriptures and the writings of the church fathers which illuminate their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For this reason as I teach Patrology I do not simply tell them about the fathers, but we carefully read and discussed together many complete works giving the students the opportunity to meet these great figures of our church face-to-face. Most scholars believe that St. Athanasius wrote the words cited above, and his whole treatise On the Incarnation, as a very young man before the outbreak of the Arian controversy in 318. I challenge my students to consider what God is calling them to do in this new age of challenge and crisis for the church. Might one of them be the Athanasius of the next generation?
The Harvest is Plentiful
As many of you know, we spent one year from Aug 2009 through Aug 2010 on home assignment in the United States. The primary purpose of this home assignment was to rebuild our support team and recruit new long-term missionaries for the work of evangelism around the world. The theme of many of my presentations was our Lord's words from the Gospel "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few" (Luke 10:2). I believe that this is the reality around the world but that it is particularly true in Albania. We have completed our home assignment and are now serving in Albania again, but these challenges are still before the Orthodox Church in North America. God has entrusted us with tremendous resources for which we are responsible before Him. He has said "To whom much is given much is required" (Luke 12:48). We pray that many more long-term missionaries will be raised up from North America in the coming years.
We were blessed during our time in the United States by many who committed themselves to joining our support team in order to make our continued work in Albania possible, but we still need more support team members. The most important role of a support team member is to pray for the work in Albania. We are more convicted than ever that we can only be effective through the power of prayer. We ask your partnership with us in prayer. If you have been praying for us or are willing to start praying for us, we would be very blessed if you would let us know. We also need your financial support. Missionaries are not supported directly from the general funds of OCMC so we are dependent on gifts sent to the OCMC designated for "Hoppe Family" to meet all our financial needs.
Maintaining a strong support team is one of the real challenges for long-term overseas missionaries. It is very difficult for us to dedicate ourselves completely to the ministry here in Albania and maintain the relationships necessary for a strong support team with a large network in the United States. For this reason we would be very grateful if you would be willing to become a support team coordinator for us. This is an idea which was suggested to us by a supporter during our time in the US. We are looking for partners who would be willing to cultivate a small network of local supporters on our behalf. The idea is that each support team coordinator would cultivate five new support team members for our ministry. The coordinator would ask new members to make a monthly pledge toward our support and pray for us regularly. If you are willing to become a support team coordinator, we would be extremely grateful. Please let us know if you are able to do this so that we can assist you in your efforts.
20 years of Religious Freedom
Yesterday I attended a symposium at which the President of Albania and the leaders of the four traditional religious communities in Albania were keynote speakers. This symposium commemorated the 20th anniversary since the reopening of public worship in Albania after the terrible communist persecution. It was in November of 1990 as the communist regime began to weaken that the religious communities emerged from underground and began to worship publicly again. This reemergence showed that 23 years of complete official atheism had not been able to root out all religious belief from the hearts of the people, but it also showed the tremendous toll which persecution had taken.
The communities that reemerged were only shadows of what they had been. Their ranks had been decimated by persecution and martyrdom, their properties had been confiscated and destroyed, and their leaders were for the most part dead. The Orthodox Church, like the other religious communities, has now been in the process of rebuilding for 20 years. It has been tremendously blessed by the leadership of Archbishop Anastasios, and many miracles have occurred; but there are still tremendous challenges ahead on the path. The years of freedom are growing and in three years will surpass those of complete atheism, but the damage is not yet healed. The destruction of the Orthodox community is something like the destruction of deforestation. It does not take long to chop down all the trees but it takes generations to grow them again. After many years in which the ground has lain bare after the trees were cut, the soil is eroded away and it is not even easy to plant again. New trees find it difficult to begin growing in the depleted soil and, when they do grow, it is slow and painstaking. In the same way, the planting of new spiritual life has been very difficult after the atheistic desert. We also face the challenge that many other things have grown up and choked out the development of real spiritual life. Albania has seen the development of true post-Christian secular materialism in a way that it did not under communism. This has made it much more difficult to draw people to the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The harvest is still plentiful, but the laborers are few and the work is very difficult.
Ten and Teen
Tristan and Katherine enjoyed their year in the United States but they were also anxious to return home to Albania as soon as possible. Both Katherine at 10 and Tristan, who will be 13 in December, are transforming into young adults. We are enjoying this new stage in their lives very much. They still have the freshness and delight of childhood but they have also moved toward a maturity in depth which delights us. Tristan continues to burst with questions about everything in the world around us. I enjoy discussing physics, chemistry, biology, history, politics and many other subjects with him. He pursues his line of questioning until he really understands what we are discussing. We often return to the same subject over the course of days or weeks until he is satisfied. Of late he is especially interested in black holes and travel at the speed of light. Katherine is still our little princess. She brings elegance, beauty and joy wherever she goes. She loves animals and has become a ravenous reader of animal tales over the last year. Her greatest desire is to have a pet dog or cat but unfortunately this is not feasible in our living con