by Kent Annan
“Art, you’ve done well here,” former PTS president James McCord said to him in 1968. “You don’t have the right to deny God the opportunity to
use you someday. So get off your ass and go back to class. And may the Lord go with you.”
So Art Ware, after six years of dropping into and out of seminary (unsure whether to pursue a vocation in ministry or in education), reenrolled and earned his M.Div. from Princeton in 1969. He went on to a successful career as a junior high and high school administrator in Washington State and was also actively involved as a layman and elder in local Presbyterian congregations. Then in 1996, with retirement on the horizon, Ware and his wife, Eloise, decided to forgo the temptation to rest on their, well, laurels, and instead became missionaries to Albania.
McCord’s statements continued to ring true 30 years later—and they’ve made all the difference to Ware.
After returning from Albania in 2000, Ware became associate pastor at University Place Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington, and will in April take a call as associate pastor at the Little Church on the Prairie in Lakewood, Washington.
The unexpected turns that have led Ware into ministry started in 1995 when an announcement at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle caught Eloise’s eye. “When I read in the bulletin that they needed people to go to Kyrgyzstan,” she says, “I thought, Yes, this is what I want to do!” She went to Kyrgyzstan for five weeks with a church group and had a wonderful time teaching and serving there. She was hooked, but unsure what would come of it because “Art had never traveled outside the U.S., and I was sure he didn’t want to go.”
“I was impressed by the change—the excitement for ministry—that I saw in Eloise,” he says. So when presented with the chance for both of them to serve in Albania, they were ready. Art would become headmaster of the Quiriasi School, a junior high and high school for missionary children; Eloise would teach English at an Albanian Orthodox seminary.
"The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.’
Their excitement is infectious, like that of new converts, as they talk about their four years in Albania. Art left the Quiriasi School to become a professor at the Albanian Bible Institute, a school that trained future Protestant ministers—where he taught Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Christology, hermeneutics, preaching, and apologetics. He also discovered a need that expats had for worship that was unmet by both Catholic and Orthodox churches (“where we couldn’t take communion”) and local Pentecostal churches (“that had no liturgy”). So he became an ordained Presbyterian Church (USA) minister (he went through the process while in Albania, then was ordained while on furlough in the U.S.) and started a congregation in Albania that about 40 foreigners and a few Albanians attended. In Albania, he says, “I was more thankful than ever for my superior education at Princeton.”
But no education could have prepared him for what came next: the Kosovar refugee crisis. Tens of thousands of refugees flooded into Albania, already a poor country. Ware and the Bible school where he was teaching decided, “Ministry is not here in the school, it’s out there, all around us.” So they shut down the school and for four frantic months helped renovate an old bread factory so it could house refugees, gave out food, bought
and distributed needed supplies (including more than 10,000 mattresses), and developed many meaningful relationships with
The giving, as so often happens, was rewarded with a blessing. “I’ve found so much
by serving [for those years in Albania],” he says. “I’ve found a new relationship with and depth to Jesus Christ. I felt surrounded by God’s love even when we faced a hostile tank and when a guy held a gun to my head [during violent civil unrest in 1997]. Not even Albanian tanks could separate me from God’s love! That doesn’t mean there was necessarily going to be a happy ending, but I experienced the presence of God like I never had before. I’ve been blessed beyond words by the Albanian people, by being part of their lives and seeing their faithfulness.”
Eloise and Art Ware (bottom left and
middle) with an Albanian family in 1999.
Since they’ve left, Art and Eloise have gone back to visit Albania together once, and they’ve hosted several Albanian friends who have come to the U.S. to visit. In February 2002, Art visited Albania (and Kosovo) again, but Eloise couldn’t go with him because she was recovering from back surgery for injuries sustained and aggravated by car travel on Albania’s rugged, pot-holed roads.
They plan to keep visiting Albania and are also discussing the possibility of teaching at a new Presbyterian Church (USA) theological school in Anatolia, Turkey. When asked what else might be next and whether they might consider full-time, overseas mission work again, Art says, “We’ll see how it goes, see how our health goes, and, most importantly, see how the Lord speaks to us. My favorite Bible verse is Proverbs 16:9—‘The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.’ That’s been our story. We had no idea that we’d be missionaries to Albania.”