By Valerie Baldowski
For the past 15 years, Roger and Cherie Mullins have traveled thousands of miles, braved unfamiliar territory, navigated cultural differences, and reached out to others, despite language barriers.
The husband and wife, both missionaries, direct Hope For The World-Albania, which supports Albanian orphanages, from their McDonough home.
The organization, according to Cherie Mullins, first began when the couple felt a calling to become missionaries in 1994.
The couple, members of Glen Haven Baptist Church in McDonough, recently celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary.
Cherie Mullins said when they first married, she had no idea they would become missionaries.
"I'm a preacher's kid," she said. "My whole life has been in ministry, until I married him. Then, it was only a few years after we were married that he really did surrender to the full-time call of the Lord on his life."
Not long after they tied the knot, Roger Mullins attended Bible college in Memphis, Tenn., said Cherie Mullins. The background he gained from the school helped prepare him for a life of full-time evangelism, she said.
The entire family, she and her husband, along with their daughter, Cindy Mullins Howard, and son, Buddy, participated in the evangelistic outreach efforts, said Cherie Mullins.
"We sang and traveled with him," she continued. "It hasn't been him by himself. It's been a family adventure all these years."
Their Albanian ministry began with one government-owned orphanage in Tirana, Albania, working with 170 children, Cherie Mullins said. Their early work involved sending financial assistance to the orphanage to help pay for food, clothing, heat and other necessities.
Over the years, the scope of their work broadened, according to Cherie Mullins, and now they minister to 400 children in 10 different orphanages throughout Albania. They also work with children and adults who are mentally and physically handicapped, as well as a center for the elderly, with approximately 50 senior citizens.
Since their Albanian outreach initiative began, Cherie Mullins has traveled to the country each year, but Roger Mullins travels between the U.S. and Albania four to five times annually.
The trips are always a powerful experience, Cherie Mullins said.
"From the very first trip I ever made into Albania, I met those people who had suffered under communism for so many years, yet they were going to give a gift to me every single time they saw me," she said. "They had nothing. They were giving a gift to me from their poverty."
Roger Mullins said he initially became a missionary at the request of Jimmy Franks, president of Hope For The World.
"I used to belong to his church, Lock Haven Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla.," he said.
The Mullins family's evangelism initiatives were based out of Lock Haven Baptist, and in 1988, as the Iron Curtain was falling in Eastern Europe, Franks established Hope For The World after a trip to the area.
"He called me, saying 'Roger, I need help,'" Roger Mullins said.
At first he was unsure about whether to get involved, but made the commitment after meeting some of the orphans.
"I went over there, and stood on the doorstep with 170 kids around me," Roger Mullins said. "I couldn't speak their language, and they couldn't speak mine, but our eyes [met] and God called me right then. "
Roger Mullins said the mission's efforts are enhanced by a staff of Christian Albanians working at each of the facilities to ensure the needs of the children and adults are met.
"My staff oversees what I call the TLC, the tender, loving care which these kids never got," he added.
The mission encourages donors to pledge $30 monthly through a sponsorship program, said Roger Mullins, and the funds are wired to the orphanages. Every Sunday, Mullins family members visit churches they established contacts with during their years as evangelists, introducing their ministry to each congregation and asking for sponsors.
The couple's daughter, Cindy Howard, is also involved in Hope For The World-Albania. She is the organization's sponsorship coordinator, and traveled to Albania in 2005, and again earlier this year.
"I came here to work in the office with mom and dad part time," she said. "That prompted me to want to go to the country and meet the children."
She said her impressions of the country were eye opening.
"It was very different than I expected it to be," she said. "The country was more beautiful than I expected it to be."
But the extreme poverty and the "barren coldness" of the orphanages were also shocking, she said.
Howard said the orphanages in which the Albanian government houses the children are not built from wood, but from stone and concrete.
"That's just where all these kids live," she added. "They [government officials] run these big, huge, concrete buildings that are just all tile, marble and concrete."