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The tong master of Tirana

That very British tradition of barbecues in the rain is being introduced to Albania by four BMS World Mission workers as they find new ways to support the Roma community

As the smoke, smells and sizzling sounds of barbecues start to drift across the UK, they are becoming a regular sight on the outskirts of Tirana, Albania.
 
With BMS mission worker Dan Dupree as ‘tong master’ and wife Annie leading the dancing, the British barbecue got an Albanian twist, recently, as along with BMS mission workers Mat and Suzanne Gregory, the Roma community in the Albanian capital were brought together through singing, dancing, storytelling and delicious food.

Over 60 people came to eat and mingle when Tek Ura, the new NGO the Gregorys and Duprees have set up in Albania to work with the marginalised, invited Roma people to a barbecue at their drop-in centre on the edge of the community. They enjoyed barbecued Qofte (Albanian skinless sausages), bread, salad and fellowship. The Duprees and Gregorys want this to be the first of many celebrations to bring people closer together.
 
“We want to be part of this community and join in with what they are doing,” says Dan. “We want to open up this space [the Tek Ura Centre] for them to gather together, as they don’t often have that opportunity. The barbecue was a way of helping us build bridges with the community – Tek Ura means ‘at the bridge’. It was a way of bringing people who wouldn’t normally have a barbecue together, to get them in the same room and break down some of those barriers.”



It was dry and sunny the day of the first barbecue but in true stiff upper lip spirit, rain is not stopping the fun, much to the amusement of the locals. Dan says: “They think that is quite funny and are happy to eat with us in the rain because we are British.”
 
The barbecue was also an opportunity to tell people about ‘Eat, talk and pray’, a new weekly meeting at the centre, exploring spirituality. It begins with a barbecue and then explores a life issue (one week for instance it was about things to be thankful for). At the end, people are invited to pray about that issue.


“Our hope and prayer is that will develop into a vibrant worshipping community,” says Dan. “At the moment it is very first base, helping people to recognise that healthy living also has healthy spirituality connected to it.”

Eat, talk and pray is just one of six pilot projects the Duprees, Gregorys and Ina, the social worker they have hired, are leading to engage the Roma community and help them meet their needs. The other projects are:

Health promotion
In partnership with a Christian clinic, nurses are coming to the Tek Ura Centre for screenings and health counselling. Over 30 adults and children are attending health education sessions on topics like looking after yourself when you are ill to managing stress.


Electricity advocacy
Many local Roma people have had their electricity supply cut off for six months. The centre is playing a role in brokering an agreement between the Roma community and local electricity company to help them get connected again. “This is the thing that is really stressing them out,” says Dan.


Educational support
The centre is identifying ways they can help young families and single parents, including supporting them through play, something which is alien to many. “Lots of children don’t have toys,” says Dan. Tek Ura has a long-term plan for helping Roma children with school integration.

 

Food bank
With Roma people often working ten hours a day for a wage of £1.50, many are struggling to supply basic food needs. The centre is providing food parcels for 16 families every two weeks. They are also looking into other options to help families, like growing their own vegetables in a community garden.

 

Time bank
The Duprees and Gregorys don’t just want to help the Roma community but encourage them to help each other. They are also exploring with individuals what they are good at and whether they could help others through their skills and talents, be they baking some bread or rebuilding houses that have been damaged due to flooding. “We want to play an empowering role to support the community to support itself,” says Dan.



Dan is very excited by the progress since the Tek Ura Centre opened in January, but asks for prayer for wisdom, stamina and that they will continue to be close to God.
 
“Pray that we will keep rooted in Christ,” he says “We are doing this because we are obedient to him and as an expression of our love and a desire to see the gospel lived out amongst very desperate people. Pray that we might be rooted in the right place and stay there.”


Support the work the Duprees and Gregorys are doing in Albania with the Roma community by giving to BMS today.


Photos by Tek Ura
 

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission.   




This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission.  

BMS World Mission, 01/06/2016
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