Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

October 17, 2011

Reflections on Seven Years of Service in Albania: An Update from Missionary Georgia Gilman Bendo

Protagonists School has just begun its 10th year in existence! From 12 students in 2002 to about 250 this year, we thank God for always blessing us with success and strengthening us to face new challenges. His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios maintains education as a top priority in his vision for the Church’s social outreach in Albania.

I am thankful to be a part of that vision. This past August marked the seventh anniversary of my arrival in Albania as a missionary. Since then I’ve enjoyed a steady ministry of teaching English and offering an after-school catechism club at Protagonists.

In Albania, students must study two foreign languages starting in 3rd grade. Since we are an “Albanian-American” school, our English program is essential and many of the parents choose Protagonists because of it. Although we are a private school it is still illegal to teach the faith during school hours, so we must at least be vigilant that our curriculum is not working against us. I realized this last year while choosing the books for our English classes. Often the authors of these books are primarily interested in keeping the attention of young adults with little care to high moral standards. One series that the bookstore was encouraging us to use, for example, was rife with reading material about scandalous relationships and less than admirable examples of friendships. Fortunately we were able to find an excellent series for our middle school students

Our after-school catechism club is called “Spiritual Journey” and is open to all the students once a week. Many of those who sign up are from Orthodox backgrounds but we also have a number of students from Catholic, Muslim, and even atheist families. We teach the basic beliefs and traditions of the Orthodox Church with catechism books, crafts, songs, field trips, etc. Two years ago, I started teaching the older students from a book which was written by Archbishop Anastasios and recently translated by my husband into Albanian. The book, Divine Messages, is written for the catechist, so I am creating an accompanying activity book with small paper crafts for each lesson for the students.

Although formal persecution of faith has ended in Albania, there continue to be frequent attacks on the Church in the media. Sometimes they try to make the people feel that it is not really Albanian to be Orthodox. To combat this I try whenever possible to show the children that Orthodoxy has been around a long time in Albania and is an integral part of its history and culture. To this purpose, we invited the students on a trip to Ardenica Monastery this spring. This 13th century monastery is dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos and the walls of the church are covered in icons painted by famous Albanian iconographers. The national hero Skenderbeg was even married in a chapel at this monastery.

Every so often God grants us a glimpse of the fruit of our efforts. At the end of January, our students have first semester exams. One day Elena, a recently baptized 6th grader, ran up to me breathless. “I found you!” she exclaimed, “Teacher, there’s St. Basil, St. Gregory, and who’s the third?” “Oh, the Three Hierarchs. St. John Chrysostom is the other one,” I replied, “Why?” “Well we’re about to have an exam and I remember last year in Spiritual Journey club you told us they were the protectors of students and we should pray to them for help at school! Thanks!” and she ran off. I was delighted to see something we discussed last year had stuck and she was actually putting it into practice.

This summer, our family enjoyed time in America visiting parishes to tell about our work in Albania, while awaiting the birth of our second child. Evdoxia Lindsay was born on August 7th, and our 40-day churching service in Maine on the September 18th. Visit our website to see our new photos! Please keep our family in your prayers as we continue our ministry.

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