'My Eyes Were Opened'

April 26, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

The souvenirs of Bethany Schultz's trip include callouses on her palms and a soft spot in her heart for a girl named Jetmira.

Nine-year-old Jetmira (the J is pronounced like a Y) is one of the children at the orphanage in Tirana, Albania, where Bethany and a few dozen American youths spent 11 days earlier this month building a playground and a bike path.

"I'm going to start writing to her," said the 14-year-old Greenmount girl, who is undaunted by the language difference. Bethany has an Albanian dictionary, and she'll just guess at the conjugation of verbs, using what she knows from her Spanish class. Jetmira will understand enough, she said.

The trip was a long-awaited first overseas mission for Bethany, a freshman at North Carroll High School. She took three weeks off school to visit Albania and other areas in Europe, including Dachau, and now is making up the work. She dropped her second-period class, chorus, so that she could use the time as a study hall to catch up. The trip cost her $1,300, some of the amount donated from people in her church and some by her parents, David and Dawn Schultz of Celeste Court.

"This was not a sight-seeing trip," said her father. "She worked really hard."

He knows because he was there. Mr. Schultz, a construction company owner, volunteers as a local director for Youth for Christ. The national organization, and its umbrella, Military Community Youth Ministries, coordinated the Albanian project.

Mr. Schultz designed the playground after an advance visit to Albania in November, and returned with the delegation to build it. He warned his daughter that the country is poor. He told her there was no reason to go other than to improve it. That was just the kind of thing Bethany had in mind.

"I guess it's more of a spiritual thing I wanted to do," Bethany said of her mission to Albania. "It puts you back on track. You get away from God for a while, [but] if you go on one of these, you won't be away for long."

She expected to see poverty, but the effect on her was powerful once she was there, she said.

"My eyes were opened," she said. "I walked the streets of Albania and there were mothers sitting there with their babies screaming. When we were walking to church, we saw a little girl on the sidewalk lying face down. We thought she was dead. Then she moved a little bit.

"It gave me a heart for other people, and I want to go back and do it again," Bethany said.

She was moved by how happy the children in the orphanage seemed. The facility is more like a foster home, Bethany said, because many of the parents are not dead but too poor to care for their children.

The children, from ages 6 to 16, were athletic, even though they played with flat soccer balls or tin cans.

Their clothes were donated and were community property; in the morning, the children came down to a common pile to pick out something to wear.

Mr. Shultz has gone on several missions, always telling his daughter about the trips upon his return. She understood in only a limited way, until she went herself, she said.

She said she was encouraged to see youths of different faiths working together. Her group set up a program akin to Vacation Bible School, although the Christian aspect was played down at first.

The director of the orphanage was not a Christian, and was wary at first. After they won his trust, he allowed them to teach the children songs and even perform a Passion play. The Albanians were riveted, most of them unfamiliar with the stories of Jesus' life and death, Mr. Schultz said.

It turned out other Christian missionaries had been there, however, Bethany said. The children already knew the English words to "Jesus Loves Me."

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