“Porta” means “door” in Albanian and Greek. It has also come to signify a place of “help, hope and wholeness” for Albanian immigrants in Athens, Greece.
PORTA – The Albania House in Athens is the topic of a new Skype interview with PORTA’s founders, Bob and Janice Newell.
The Newells – Mississippi natives who made their professional lives in Houston – were commissioned as field personnel by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2003.
They spent the next several years working on language and cultural acquisition in Albania and Greece before opening PORTA in 2007.
Albania, which shares a mountainous border with Greece, was isolated for decades under communism. In the early 1990s, however, the country opened up and Albanians could leave. Many were desperate and did just that.
Roughly half a million Albanian immigrants now live in Athens. Janice describes them as “economic refugees.”
PORTA serves multiple purposes, says Bob: cultural center, educational center, hospitality center and reconciliation center (because of tensions between Albanians and Greeks).
Albanians can find art shows, technology training, language classes and more at PORTA.
Janice says one of her English classes has 30-year-olds as well as 60-year-olds in it. Some students were professionals in Albania, but the move to Athens meant a loss of status and opportunity.
“I have the difficult job of turning Albanians down for our classes,” says Bob. “Our classes are always full to the brim and beyond. We always have to turn students down. It’s a difficult thing, but we simply do not have enough time, enough money and enough space to meet the needs.”
The Newells also run Bible studies. They estimate that only 1,000 of the 500,000 Albanians in Athens are Christians.
Janice says their own experience as Americans in Greece helps them identify with Albanians in Greece.
“When we have difficulty getting papers and they have difficulty getting papers, they think we understand,” says Janice. “And we do understand. They are an inspirational group of people.”
Bob says people can do three things to support their work: pray, visit PORTA to share skills, and give financially to PORTA, which does not charge Albanians for the services it provides.
“What we do, we do to honor Jesus,” says Bob.
“PORTA Today” contributions (to help underwrite current programming) may be sent to:
CBF Project #89881
P.O. Box 101699
Atlanta, GA 30392
“PORTA Tomorrow” contributions (to help fund PORTA after the Newells’ planned retirement in 2014) may be sent to:
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Foundation
2930 Flowers Road South
Atlanta, GA 30341
Watch the interview with the Newells at vimeo.com/ethicsdaily/skype-newells1
Visit Bob Newell’s blog at ItsGreek2u.blogspot.com
Watch other EthicsDaily.com Skype interviews at vimeo.com/ethicsdaily