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Teaching in Albania with Betsy Phillips

Teaching in Albania with Betsy Phillips

Today we’re happy to share a glimpse of life in Albania with WGM missionary Betsy Phillips. Betsy moved to Albania a little over a year ago with her husband, Len. Betsy was interviewed for this piece by staff writer, Angela Olsen.

Hi Betsy! Will you share with us a little about yourself and where you’re currently located?
I am Betsy Phillips and I live in Tirana, Albania. I still can’t quite get over it myself. After more than 20 years serving in missions in Latin America, who would have thought I’d ever cross the Atlantic to live in Albania? And if that’s not surprising enough, I’m teaching middle school students! Granted, Len and I have been involved in educational ministries all along—but middle school?! It could only be God who brought us here, where my primary role, in this majority Muslim country, is teaching middle school Bible and leading lower school chapels at GDQ International Christian School.

What led you to move to Albania? How did you know that’s where God was calling you?

After leaving Bolivia in 2013, we spent four years in a resource role in the U.S. while Len completed a Master of Education in Administration and our kids navigated college years. Then we began to sense God was calling us to international, cross-cultural service again. For me, it was a quiet move of the Spirit in my heart, assuring me it was time to go again. Then, God orchestrated a series of unexpected circumstances and communications that connected us to Albania. At just the right moment, there were needs at GDQ School for both a Bible teacher and an administrator—it seemed like a perfect fit!

Tirana, Albania.

Middle school! What is it like teaching that age?

Middle school students are energetic, opinionated, candid, sarcastic, caring, and inquisitive. They’re navigating a sometimes confusing, sometimes painful, and always emotional journey through adolescence, and most do it remarkably well. Teaching Bible to grades 6, 7, and 8 has challenged me to anticipate questions they might ask as we grapple with a passage or chapter. Even when I think I’m prepared, a student will come up with a comment or question that takes me by surprise. But I absolutely love having the challenge to dive into God’s Word with them!

What does a day at GDQ look like for you?

A typical day at our school means not only having students in class, but chatting before and after school, hanging out, occasionally playing foursquare at recess, and co-leading a weekly small group of girls as part of our middle school youth ministry. Middle school students can be frustrating and exhausting some days, but they are some of my favorite people in the world!

Bible Class

Have you had any particular experiences with your students that have made you think ‘Maybe this is why God called us here’?

One day in our Old Testament Survey class, we were reviewing the tragic decline of the people of Israel through captivity and exile. Even after a remnant returned to Jerusalem, they continued to neglect the house of God, disobeyed the command to honor the Sabbath, and intermarried with the people around them. It was too much for one student. “How can it end like this? What’s wrong with these people? Can’t they see how God’s been so faithful and so patient with them? What’s going to happen? Will God still rescue them? Will He send someone? It can’t end like this!” These questions opened the door to tell this student from an unbelieving family how God would indeed send someone to rescue us all. And to point out that, as we began studying the Prophets, we’d see God’s promises to provide a Messiah, leading us to the coming of Jesus! To see this student’s heart open to the pain and grief of sin and to recognize the need for a Savior was a moment that blessed a Bible teacher’s heart.

How does life look different or the same in Albania compared to life in other places you’ve served? Is there anything that really stands out about Albanian culture that you particularly enjoy?

We came to Albania sight unseen, arriving just three days before school started last year. Those first days were a blur of unpacking, jet lag, and orienting ourselves to our new home and to school responsibilities. Life in Albania looks different from where we’ve lived before in several ways. For the first time ever, we live right in the heart of the city, in an 8th floor apartment. We don’t have a vehicle, so we walk or take the bus just about everywhere we go. And we’ve come for the first time without any children—leaving them and our granddaughter in the U.S. has been a huge adjustment! And then there’s the language—Albanian is in a class by itself! But so many people speak English that we’ve been able to get by with the limited Albanian we’ve managed to learn so far. That’s one thing that has really stood out to us—how welcoming the people here have been. The Albanians we have met are so very gracious, hospitable, kind, and concerned for our wellbeing as guests in their country. Just after arriving, our neighbor across the hall invited us over for “byrek”, a typical cheese and Spinach-filled pastry. It was an awkward (but delicious!) 45 minutes as we attempted to communicate via Google Translate. But it was just the beginning of the warm and generously forgiving attitudes we’ve encountered in our new home.

Beautiful Albanian landscape

Being a missionary doesn’t always mean staying in one part of the world. Sometimes God calls us from one side of the globe to the other. Wherever God may be calling you, WGM can help get you there! Connect with someone on our mobilization team to learn what steps you can take next.

You can find more of Betsy’s writing on her blog and on Facebook.

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