Thursday, May 31, 2007

The end of Council, returning home

I'm sitting in the Orlando airport waiting for my flight.  Thanks for the free wifi MCO, something my nice hotel wouldn't do.

Some of my friends think I'm hopelessly optimistic, but I continue to be encouraged about where we are going as the Christian & Missionary Alliance.  I'm not thrilled with where we are, but I'm encouraged by the things I've heard this week and the signs I've seen that things are changing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Next Steps: Passports anyone?

 As I traveled around talking about Kosovo this year one of the things I frequently mentioned is the functional lack of passports for the residents of Kosovo.  Stuck in legal limbo, most people either have no passport, a United Nations passport or a Yugoslav passport.

The first options makes it impossible to leave this Connecticut-sized country, the second gives you limited access to countries who will accept you (not a long list).  The third, ironically enough, gives you the greatest access to foreign countries through a passport for a country that hasn't existed in ten years.  Yes, this is the Balkans.

At any rate, Veton Surroi, member of the Kosovo negotiating team, has announced plans for new Kosovar passports which will assumedly be implemented following the assumed independence of Kosovo.


via  BIRN

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Bill Clinton being honored with a statue

 You've gotta follow the link and see the pictures; sorry I can't embed them here.  Words cannot express....

Day Three of Council

President's Report

Dr. Benedict, our organizational president, gave his report to the general council today.  He brought us a reasonably concise picture of the good news and bad news that we face as an organization.  Everyone needs honest self-assessment and this was healthy conversation.

More significantly was a a discussion about coaching.  Dr. Benedict told the story of how funding became available for 16 denomination leaders, including Dr. Benedict himself, to go through extensive ministry (I'd say executive) coaching.  Dr. B is a former college president, successful businessman and former pastor.  And so he talked about his own experience in the process.

Then he brought his coach up on stage and opened up the whole process before the gathered group of 3,000 Alliance leaders.  His coach interviewed him, sharing how Dr. B and his coach articulated 7 areas in his life that need attention if he was going to be more effective in his role.

I was frankly shocked that he would have the courage and transparency to do this.  How many "corporate presidents' have you heard stand before their "shareholders" and explain the coaching that they are getting and encouraging others to follow suit.?  Cool stuff.

Ministry Roundtable

We also heard good news and bad news from John Soper, the vice-president of national church ministries.  Some of the good news is that the Christian & Missionary Alliance is the most ethnically diverse denomination in the Untied States.  The bad news is that we one behind the curve in both developing ethnic leaders AND in providing places of ministry for those already in leadership. Soper said this with tears.

From International ministries we head great news about progress being made around the world. We heard about plans being laid to set up short-term receiving centers around the world. Here's the problem: we have a maximum capacity to host 2,000 short-termers on our fields. Yet last year 10,000 CMA people went oversea for short -term experiences. Obviously that means that 8,000 went out with other organizations. Those people develop affiliations and relationships with organizations other than our own.

We also had the privilege of hearing from the leadership of the CMA church in Vietnam.  When our missionaries left there in 1975 there were 100,000 believers. Today there are over 1,000,000, this despite 25 years of difficulty.  So we heard from the first CMA delegation from Vietnam since 1975.  Awesome.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day Two of Council

I spent the bulk of my day in committee meetings today.  Many people I know take a dim view of these types of meetings.  I confess I'm a little bit of a dork, but I actually enjoy them.  I enjoy seeing the hood of the organization opened and its inner workings exposed for observation.  All organizations are rough approximations.  That is, there are inefficiencies in every organization: inefficiencies and frictions in relationships, creative (and harmful) tensions between people and departments.  But that's life.  All organizations are rough approximations of True Community.

I think we do a pretty good job at what we do.  Are we perfect?  Not by a long shot.  But I get discouraged at some in my own generation that eschew involvement in "tinkering under the hood" because they somehow feel it is artificial or unworthy of their attention.

The first evening of Council was a winner too. I entered the darkened auditorium and found my seat in crowded bleachers.

Excuse the poor camera phone pic.  John Stumbo spoke about the cost of ministry...a cost that seems to be getting higher.   The cost of ministry is high...and often it hurts.   Quoting a Christian researcher, he said that 80% of spouses wish that their mate was in different field.   That's pretty striking.   He talked about the sheer madness of what we do.  It's crazy, and it's crazy not to think it's crazy.

And yet he said too that what we do matters.  It matters a lot that lives are being changed by the power of the Gospel.  Another speaker told the story of a young man that we'll call Bill.  Bill was invited to a Bible study to which he came for a while.  He then dropped off the face of the earth for a long time.  Eventually he came back and told his story.  When he first attended the Bible study he had been a devout follower of his traditional religion.  But the more he tried to please his god, the further away from him he felt.  He finally came to the conclusion that the only way to gain the approval of his god was to join the ranks of the suicide bombers.  So he went and trained for that assignment and was sent to a target.  His initial target was closed to him and so he found a school yard full of children, believing it be the place where he would end is life in a holocaust of destruction, taking with him the lives of tens of young school children.

 But then one of those children stopped and greeted him.   And the true God sent him the blinding realization that it cannot be honoring, it cannot be fruitful, it cannot be good, to take the lives of the innocents.  Today that young man is a Christ-follower...someone who has now been changed by the power of the Gospel.

What we do matters.  Whether we're working in the US or overseas, it matters a great deal.

And so we closed the evening with a fantastic worship set:

"Jesus bold me close, closer Lord to you... let the earth around me fade away. . ."

"there is none like one else can touch my heart like you do."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Day One of Council: Monday Pre-Council

I work with a wonderful organization called the Christian & Missionary Alliance.  Every two years, a "Council" meeting is called where the pastors, church delegates, missionaries and organizational leaders all descend on a city for what is a combination business meeting and family reunion.  While doing the "business" is obviously a fair amount of work, I so enjoy seeing old friends and meeting new ones too.

While I used to attend Council every year (it used to be annual), we've now been in Kosovo for the last four years and I've missed this enormous "family gathering."  Last night (Sunday) Melissa and I attended the "missionary banquet," sitting with a 497 people who are spending, or have spent, considerable portions of their lives overseas.

After the meal there was a time of honoring all those missionaries  retiring this year.  I was struck by the quality of people I saw walk before us.  As bio after bio was read, I was awed by their faithful resolution to live out the call of God on their lives.  My respect is so much deeper than in years before as I am now much more aware of the sacrifice required.  Having spent only four years on the mission field I have some deeper awareness of what a forty year commitment might look like.  Two of the retirees had just concluded a 42-year career in Israel.  I can only imagine the things they've experienced in that land that has seen so much war.

Another couple just retired from their career in Japan.  The woman had grown up as a missionary kid in the Philippines.  Her family had been captured during WWII and put in a Japanese prison camp during those years.  As an adult, she returned to the nation of her captors, spending her career loving the people of Japan.  That is the difference the Gospel makes in the life of a person.

The bulk of today was spent in meetings.  Several hours of the day were devoted to the topic of a "Makeover."  Most organizations today are grappling with the changing North American culture and the CMA is no different.  We're wrestling with how to positively respond to a number cultural developments.   The great thing is that all of these developments have tremendous upsides and the potential to positively influence the Kingdom of God and missionary work.

Tonight I'm off to my first committee meeting.  I'm looking forward to learning a lot from some very bright people. 

That's it from Orlando for day one.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Status Update: Text before the UN Security Council

We now have the draft text that was delivered to the UNSC by the US and European Union.  It was printed today at the EUObserver.  There isn't anything very surprising here; the bulk of the content actually points back to the original document we talked about here

Monday, May 14, 2007

In the News: Kosovo, Albania and Jihad

I've never read the "American Thinker" before but I resonated with Ray Robinson's article yesterday on "Kosovo, Albania and Jihad."  Robinson deployed to Kosovo in 2000 with the US military.  His story, which he wrote in response to the Ft Dix Six, gives some good, non-missionary insight into the Kosovar attitude toward Americans.  It's a good read.

Friday, May 11, 2007

West Introducing Kosovo Plan at UN Today

According to France24, "US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad...told reporters that the text 'will be circulated this afternoon.'"  No surprises in the article, this was exepcted any time now.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ft Dix Four: Not from Kosovo, but Macedonia

 The International Herald Tribune is reporting, today, that three of the Albanians involved in the plot to assault Ft. Dix in New Jersey are not from Kosovo, but from Macedonia.  The story says they are from the city of Debar, in western Macedonia. 

Experts on Albania and the Albanian-American community said they were surprised at the ethnicity of the suspects.

Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch said, "Albanians on the whole are so very over-the-top pro-American that this news came as a shock."

The 1999 American-led bombing of Serbia resulted in de facto independence for Kosovo, a majority Albanian province in Serbia that had been the scene of brutal repression by the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. One of the main thoroughfares in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, was renamed "Bill Clinton Boulevard."

In Macedonia, Argitim Fida, mayor of the Dukas' home village, said that on Sept. 11, 2001, students had a candlelight vigil in the town's main square. The town council in Debar, which has a population of about 15,000, set a special meeting for Thursday to discuss how to respond to the arrests.

"If Albanians are traditionally pro-American, we in Debar have to be more pro-American than anyone," Mayor Fida said. "Almost every family here has relatives living in the United States."

I'm not trying to be an apologist for these men, but the Western media has a tendency to damn all Muslims, regardless of any other factors.  Many in the American "Christian" media are perpetuating the myth that an independent Kosovo would become a fundamentalist Islamist state.  They are using this event to give credence to that agenda.

I'm looking forward to continuing to learning more about this situation, and trying to explain it here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Black Fog of Shame: Kosova reacts to Ft. Dix plotters

Today a number of news articles, political statements and editorials began appearing in the Kosovar press.  Prime Minister Agim Çeku roundly condemned that plotters saying  it is difficult to believe that any Albanian would take part in a terrorist act against the United States.  In other accounts he is offering the full cooperation of the Kosovar government in the investigation.  Other political party leaders had similar things to say.

RTK, the Radio & Television of Kosova, lead with the headline, "Kosova shocked with news that terrorists with Albanian ancestry aimed an attack against America."  The Islamic Association (of Kosova)  said that, "to attack America would be to attack the state that promotes democratic values.  The president of the Islamic Association added that, "In principle, we condemn every act of terrorism, independently of who planned it or whether it was complete, regardless of purpose or motive..."

The news daily, the Iliria Post, led with a front-page editorial calling the plotters "without religion and without a nation."  The same edition of Iliria Post had a long article with quotes from a number of national figures, all condemning the attacks.  The title of the article: The Black Fog of Shame. 

Direct NY-Prishtina flights beginning in June

We really should have our tickets to return to Kosovo by now, but for some medical reasons are a little delayed.  Maybe that's for the better now that Adriatic Eagle Air and Kosova Airlines have signed an agreement to begin direct flights from New York to Prishtina, beginning June 12th.

The best part?  It's only an eight hour flight.  Okay, the flight part is long enough, but I would love NOT to wait around in London or Vienna for our connections

I wish this new effort all the best, though I would be surprised if there is enough traffic to warrant direct flights.

via ECIKS - News and analysis about Kosovo Economy in English

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Albanians involved in Ft. Dix assault plan

Not very good news out of NJ today.  Six men were arrested and charged with planning to enter Ft Dix, a US Army base,  and kill as many soldiers as possible.  Why am I mentioning it here?  Four of the six are ethnic Albanians from "former Yugoslavia".  According to the NJ Star Ledger, one of them had experience as a sniper in Kosovo.  

This is obviously very disturbing.  Ft. Dix was used as a major refugee reception area during the war in Kosovo.  Thousands of Kosovar refugees transited through Dix during the conflict in Kosovo.  The symbolism of attacking Dix is terrible, though it was apparently chosen because one of the suspects was familiar with the base from delivering pizzas.

Having said all that, Albanians live all over former Yugoslavia and it's interesting that none of the media outlets are reporting whether these men are Kosovar or not.  According to reports, they are:

NAME: Dritan Duka.
AGE: 28; Born in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanian.
HOME: Cherry Hill, N.J.
IMMIGRATION STATUS: In United States illegally.
OCCUPATION: Operates Colonial Roofing and National Roofing, which list business address at the home of his brothers, Eljvir and Shain Duka.

NAME: Shain Duka.
AGE: 26; Born January 1981 in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanian.
LIVES: Cherry Hill, N.J.
IMMIGRATION STATUS: In United States illegally.
OCCUPATION: Operates roofing businesses with his brothers.

NAME: Eljvir Duka.
ALIASES: Elvis Duka, Sulayman.
AGE: 23; Born in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanian.
LIVES: Cherry Hill, N.J.
IMMIGRATION STATUS: In United States illegally.
OCCUPATION: Operates roofing businesses with his brothers.

NAME: Agron Abdullahu.
AGE: 24; Born September 1982 in the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanian.
LIVES: Buena Vista Township, N.J.
IMMIGRATION STATUS: Legal U.S. resident.
OCCUPATION: Works at a Shop-Rite supermarket.

I'm sure the vast majority of Kosovars are condemning this: judge the actions, not the ethnicity.  At this point, the Albanian press outlets have reported on this but the Kosovar ones I've checked (here, here and here) have not.  All in all, it's not a super day for Albanian-American relations.