Twenty years serving in Albania

In August 1995 Marleen van de Voorde exchanged her Belgium for Albania. Now, twenty years later, she looks back on her time in Albania. She experienced a lot of highs and lows, but her trust in God gave her strength to persevere and continue. This is an interview with an enthusiastic person.

The 55-year-old Marleen sees herself as a passionate person who likes to works towards a goal. “When I was little I wanted to be a nurse, nobody could dissuade me. Similarly later on, when I wanted to go into missions. With that in mind, I chose a wide medical training so that I could use this knowledge later in the mission field. Finally God opened several doors so I could go on mission.”

Sharing Medical knowledge
“Through Bible smuggling work I got in touch with the Dutch organization ‘Dorcas’. They asked me to join a pilot project to teach village nurses around the East Albanian city Korce. The integration and teaching were going well, but it was difficult for the nurses to transform and put the theory into practice, partly because my vision of district nursing, according to the Albanian authorities, did not fit into their task list. In the end I gave medical lessons through a nursing school to the new generation nurses. I did that until 2000, I was for some months out of the country when the anarchy started in Albania and gangs ruled the country. Finally I developed a home care system in 1997 by myself for the chronically ill and disabled. I trained the staff by myself through the Kenedy Foundation, an Albanian Evangelical aid organization with which I still work.”

Twenty thoughts about Marleen from her immediate colleagues:
always called, helpful, trusting and reliable, easy going, fantastic, doesn’t see borders as obstacles, hard worker, works with whole heart, Jesus follower, can say hard things with a smile, sometimes driven, little fear, loving, irreplaceable, single, strong yet compassionate, has vision without fear, Flemish Albanian, seeks what’s right and yet is merciful and caring.

Almost abandoned
“At the end of the last century, I tried to start a lot of things , but there was little progress and I felt alone. My ideals seemed impossible to reach. I was in a difficult period and I took a six months break. Actually, I wanted to give up, unless I could work with the support of a local church and I could work with Christian nurses. I did not want to compromise and then God provided wonderfully with three nurses! I entered the new millennium with renewed energy, thank God!”

“There were just three nurses falling from the sky”

Many stretch
“The twenty years that I have worked over here has been a big learning time for me with a lot of ‘stretching’. That means that you often need to adjust expectations because things change. I never expected that I would lead an organisation, because I have a hands-on mentality. A good foundation on which you can build is hard to find here. And if there is a base, it is quite crooked. I’ve been here for twenty years, but sometimes I still do not understand things. Sometimes I am a bit naive. As a foreigner, you never know, communication is sometimes hidden behind veiled language. Sometimes it makes the work and living here quite tough.”

“A foundation upon which you can build here in Albania is hard to find”

Faith gives strength
“My faith in God has often given me direction as I stood at crossroads. I have experienced the power of Biblical words and the Lord Jesus is what I live for. On the field, you are dependent on God. I would have died ten times, if God had not protected me. Sometimes it’s just like Peter who stepped out of the boat to walk to Jesus. Then you know that you should look at Him, or you drown. God sees the big picture and there are many miracles that have happened.”

“I would have died ten times, if God had not protected me.”

Fundamental principles
“Although I quickly felt at home in Albania, it was also a great challenge and at the beginning very primitive: twice a day access to running water, lots of power cuts in the winter, … I expected that, after the fall of Communism, the country’s economy would change much faster. Over the years I have noticed that change happens slowly, because problems are fundamental and deep due to history, the economy and the absence of God during communism. Romania, for example, is much more accessible for economic growth.”

One of the positive fruits
“One of my proudest achievements relates to a sixteen-year-old severely disabled girl. I got the (grand) parents, after much insistence to be convinced of her ability, that their child is more than a ‘physical problem’. That girl has now written a poem book. Isn’t it great?!”

Ian Loring, the president of the Kenedi Foundation, gives Marleen a honoration award.
Ian Loring, the president of the Kenedi Foundation, gives Marleen a honoration award.

Building the retirement home
“The year of the construction of the brand new retirement home for me was a nervous period. The collaboration and streamlining between different parties and construction supervision cost me a lot of energy. A few years before, we fantasized about an old people’s home on the hill, but history has changed, and now, with the grace of God there is a finished retirement home built and operated to Western European standards.”

Future Picture
“My future is not clear for me. I have a mother of 83 years, who is home alone, and I want to be around for her when she needs me. God knows me and I try not to worry about this. The retirement home is full and currently I focus on taking care of the residents and the construction of a new wing to the nursing home to double the capacity, because that is desperately needed.”

Marleen’s message to future missionaries and volunteers:
“My biggest mistake was that I wanted to do too much and was not dependent on God who sent me. When you hear the personal stories of many Albanians, your first reaction is to think in terms of solutions. Therefore here are three pieces of advice from my side:: 1) Let yourself be guided by God in all situations; What do you address and what not, 2) Do not listen to others who are telling you what to do and 3) Do not be caught by the ‘urgency’.”