The following is a post from the blog of Martha Kennedy, who spent this past year participating in the World Race, a unique missions trip that serves 11 countries in 11 months. Martha has been around Knox her whole life, and worked as one of the Program Director sat Knox Camp in 2013 and 2014. Today she will be at both services at Knox sharing about her experience at the World Race, and will have an extended time after the 11:00 AM service.
By Martha Kennedy
May 5, 2015
This month we worked with the Hope for the World Centre just outside Tirana, Albania. It is a lovely place where 10 teens live that have out-grown the orphanage system, and have intentionally made the decision to pursue their education in a caring and Christian environment. We had the chance to visit many of the orphanages where these teens grew up, got to play with lots of different kids, hold babies, encourage youth and help around the Centre in addition to the church they are connected with in Tirana. We also had the opportunity to travel to Korfu, Greece on a few of our off-days – which was amazing! I am going to miss this place dearly. If any of you know how much I love my Knox campers back home, my love for these teens here has become a similar type of love – and I really DO hope to see them again some day!
And that’s what I want to talk about. The teens. This is the second place that I’ve cried when leaving – or, should I say, when the teens left US to go to school. Our joke this month was that we were all moms – because on the set-up sheet for ministry this month the activities recorded were cooking, cleaning, and planting flowers. No joke… (just to clarify, I DO recognize that there’s a lot more to being a mom than that, but just play along for now…). Who knew we would come to a point where the teens at the Centre felt like our kids. To a point where I felt like a mom watching her kids get on the bus, tears in her eyes, and wondering if the next time she saw them get off the bus they’d be so grown up that she wouldn’t recognize them. Or in my case, if I’d ever get to see them again at all.
These teens have been through more than you can imagine. From losing parents at childbirth, to losing parents to violence, to experiencing pregnancy and putting up their own child for adoption at the age of 13, to having a family that just doesn’t have the means to provide for them at home. But you know what? You would NEVER guess any of that if you met them. Their thankfulness, joy, ability to love and their attitude towards the opportunities before them demonstrates the straight up redemption that Jesus is capable of. It demonstrates the incredible blessings the Lord wants to rain down on His children. Right? Ya. That’s right.
Well though that’s true, that’s a Sunday school answer for you. In reality, it broke my world. It shook me to realize how selfish I am. It embarassed me that I’ve considered parts of my life as “hard” when I have no IDEA what it’s like to feel abandoned or betrayed, or forgotten, or just like “another person in the system.” Don’t get me wrong – everyone experiences things that aren’t easy to get through – and every challenge shapes us. But what rocked MY world is not the unbelievable hardships that these kids have endured. It’s that they’ve made it to the other side, and that it was Jesus that brought them there. What ALSO rocked my world was the amazing hope that there is in the orphanages we visited. These weren’t “orphan-Annie” type worlds. These were brand new facilities with constructed family units in bright apartments with loving adults that are passionate about the kids they’re caring for, and determined to instill hope into these kids who could easily believe there’s no such thing.
And when I see Manuela with an unbelievably sacrificial love that she has to care for her peers that need help, or Dorisa that loves acting and laughs as she jokingly struts around with confidence, or Lori who loves greeting you with hugs and has a gentleness yet quiet assurance about herself, or Enxhi who carries herself with boldness and determination, or Mario who’s the sweetest sixteen-year-old you’ve ever met who always asks if we’d had a good day, or Aleks that will jump out and scare you in order to show you that he loves and respects you, or Nardi who is quietly hilarious and will hug you harder than you expect, or Kastriot who will smile and laugh at anything and everything, or Koli who will hog the back row of the volleyball court in order to get every hit because he wants to win but also couldn’t stop saying “just one more hug” before he got on the bus, or Ndoj who has the greatest smile and will high-five you no matter what conversation you’re having…I am SO incredibly thankful to the Lord for the way He’s shaped each of those teens. Each of them are such hard workers, so unique, and so loved by the One True Father.
Nardi and I had this joke over the month – I would kid around telling him to try not to cry when we leave, then he’d jokingly refuse that he had emotions, that men don’t cry, and that his heart is robotic. But when the bus was pulling away and tears were streaming down my cheeks, his “don’t cry” motion through the window wasn’t a “toughen-up-you’re-such-a-girl” kind of “don’t cry” …but more like an “I’m-sad-too-but-don’t-let-this-be-the-last-image-I-have-of-you-guys-from-this-month” kind of “don’t cry.” That goodbye really showed me how great of a relationship we had had the privilege of building with these teens this last month.
I don’t know what else to say. I miss them. I love them. It’s getting easier to love, and harder to leave. My heart feels like it’s in a snow globe that someone keeps obnoxiously shaking REALLY hard. And even though it’s beautiful to look at, it hurts on the inside.
But if you ask me, it’s worth it for the beautiful, lasting effect.
Martha’s blog describing her 11 months can be found here: http://marthakennedy.theworldrace.org/.