January 5, 2015

From Missionary Messenger magazine: A beautiful mess

Written by  Dan Rice
Albael's largest milk suppliers, Mr. and Mrs. Ferit Pinderi, in their cow barn. Albael's largest milk suppliers, Mr. and Mrs. Ferit Pinderi, in their cow barn. Photo by Brittany Peachey

This article appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.

Nauseous. That's how I was feeling as we navigated the three-hour journey from Tirana to Korce. I don't usually experience motion sickness, but perhaps the lack of sleep and dehydration of my 20-hour journey from Lancaster, Pa., to Albania was now taking its toll. Or perhaps it was the terrible pasta I had on my flight.

But the feeling called to mind the trip to Korce that I had taken three and a half years ago. Back then, I was part of a group of businessmen taking a trip to explore a business for transformation vision that God had placed in the heart of a young man named Kostika Zguri.

A business for transformation vision

Kosti and his wife Ori, both Albanian Americans, were dreaming of returning to Albania to work alongside dairy farmers, introducing them to the good news of Jesus and His kingdom. Specifically, they envisioned starting a milk collection and processing center so farmers could sell their milk there instead of traveling great distances by bicycle to sell their milk on city streets. Now I was returning to Korce to visit the dairy processing plant that was born from that vision.

When I finally arrived, Kosti greeted me with his usual Albanian bear hug. But the big grin on his face quickly changed to a somber look as he began pouring out the frustrations and challenges he has been facing over the past year. It was a little overwhelming to absorb within the first five minutes of arrival.

It sounded as if Kosti was questioning whether God had really called him to this mission endeavor. But then within the very same sentence, he declared, "God is faithful." My senses were a bit dulled from my journey, so I couldn't quite perceive if he really meant his declaration.

Over the next few days, I would get to see firsthand the beautiful mess that can follow the dreams God places in your heart and how the journey of faith can sometimes include a nauseating van ride through the mountains.

Birth of a business

The next day, meetings had been scheduled for the Albania Mennonite Mission Foundation (AMMF). I had agreed to participate in this day-long meeting, though I would rather have headed over to the dairy processing plant. I hadn't seen it yet since I had arrived late the previous night.

Kosti was scheduled to join this meeting, but that morning the water pump had broken at the plant, and the workers were unable to process milk. It was a Saturday and also a Muslim holiday, so Kosti would spend all day trying to find a place to buy a new water pump and finding someone to install it. Because milk is so perishable, there is no fixing things later when something goes wrong! Otherwise a whole tank could spoil. Someone willing to loan a pump was finally found.

The AMMF had planned to tour the plant that day. Kosti graciously gave the tour despite the fact that the time was approaching 8:00 p.m. and he still needed to process milk that night. On the tour, I saw the plant for the first time. As I walked around the plant, I found myself in awe of God's faithfulness in bringing this vision to life.

Only one year prior to my trip, Kosti and his family had moved to Korce with just a business plan on a piece of paper and a few commitments from kingdom-minded investors, and now there was a fully functional dairy processing plant. God was faithful in bringing all the people and resources around Kosti to make the vision a reality.

Challenges

I encouraged the visitors to leave because work still needed to be done. Kosti and Kristofer Bucher, another EMM missionary who works with this business, had a long night ahead of them. Though I hadn't expected to get my hands dirty on this trip, I decided to roll up my sleeves, put on boots, an apron, and a hairnet, and help wherever I could. We worked until 2:00 a.m.

As we worked late into the night, they told me discouraging stories of dairy farmers demanding outlandish terms, consumers abusing the company's generous quality guarantee by returning nearly empty bottles of milk claiming they were bad, convenience store owners not taking responsibility for spoiled milk due to poor refrigeration, and government officials threatening to shut down their operation over insignificant issues. Working 16-hour days was not an uncommon occurrence for them because as was the case this day, things often break.

Questions rose up in me. "Really, God? This is what you had in mind? Cleaning milk tanks at 2:00 a.m.? Bringing these guys here to get abused and ridiculed by the people they came to serve? Where is your faithfulness?"

A faithful God

As we walked out the door at 2:00 a.m., I stopped Kosti before we got in the car and called his attention to the guesthouse across the street. Directly across the street from the plant was the guesthouse where we had stayed three and a half years earlier.

We spent a lot of time praying over this vision in that guesthouse, and even prayer walking up and down this exact street, asking God to open the doors for this vision.

I believe God opened the door right across the street from this guesthouse to serve as a constant reminder that the One who calls is faithful, and He will do it.

Following God's call is what I like to call "a beautiful mess." It's beautiful because you discover real life and because the journey leads to transformation. And it's a mess because it is real life. When God calls, we're never assured it will be easy for us.

In fact, Jesus tells His followers that in this world they will have troubles. But He also gives us a promise that He has overcome the world. This is the promise on which we can stand and declare in the midst of any circumstances, "God is faithful."

Dan Rice serves as EMM's business for transformation coach. He is also a CPA, and he and his wife Anna own and operate a business called the Mulberry Street Diaper Co. Dan and Anna have two young daughters.

This article appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Missionary Messenger; sign up to read more articles like this one.