By Sarah Brazle (New York City)
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear, “Albanians”? Is it the Mafia? Or maybe you think about the Albanians in the movie Taken with Liam Neeson. But, most likely, you realize that you don’t know much more about Albanians or Albania than where they are located. This is a people group that has been labeled “unreached”, because quite honestly, it is very hard to be accepted into their tightly-knit group. But after spending the last three months with them, I am finally beginning to see a softer side to their guarded personalities.
My husband and I have been trying to develop any form of a relationship with families from this people group, so that maybe we can share the love of Jesus with them, but I am telling you, it has not been easy. In fact, it has maybe been the hardest thing we have ever done. It seems easy when your “assignment” is to go out and develop relationships with people, loving on them, and sharing your testimony. But, when the people you are reaching out to will hardly talk to you, barely speak English, and do not necessarily like or trust other cultures…the task is a bit more daunting and a lot more challenging. Fortunately, between God and our team, we have had a lot of support and encouragement to push us forward even when things seemed more bleak than hopeful.
Lately, we have invested a very large amount of our time at the park. We usually split our time between eating at Albanian restaurants, shopping where they shop, being present on the streets they walk, etc. But, after finally finding a way in to their community, we are focusing so much more on our neighborhood park in the Bronx. This is where the Albanians come every day to play -- literally. The parents gather together to talk and gossip, while the kids run and play together, working out their pent up energy. So, since my husband and I have a one and a half year old we have been able to get in easily with the kids, who are so adorable, sweet, talkative, and speak great English. They love to play with our little girl, giving her candy and lots of attention. And we are able to talk to them, finding out about their lives, while finding joy in who they are as people. Now the parents are opening up to us, loving on our little one as well, and saying hi to us on the streets. We still have a really long ways to go before we are fully accepted into their lives and friendship circles, but the ice is cracking, and our love for them as a people is blossoming.
All of the things that make Albanians seem rough and distant are the things that we have grown to love about them. Most of the gestures they make (like staring at you constantly while in an Albanian restaurant) are not rude gestures, but signs of interest or willingness to have a conversation with you. Not many people mingle with the Albanians here so when someone does, they are very curious. It's hard to blame them for being suspicious. Of course, a lot of them are still closed off to us, but through prayer, persistence, and a willingness to be genuine, I know that God can make a difference here, through us and others.