Reflections from Rudy Mucaj

Rudin Macaj
Rudin Macaj

What does it mean to “love one another?” It’s in the Bible, yes…it’s the second greatest commandment, after “love the Lord your God”.

Former IMS student Rudin “Rudy” Mucaj recently shared that the three words – loving one another – encapsulate what it meant to spend a year on campus through the World Link program.

Rudy is from Fier, Albania, and spent the 2012-13 year as a junior at IMS. He lived with Dan & Julie Fisher of Wellman, and quickly acclimated to the life and culture of our quiet little piece of America.

“Of course most international students think of America as ‘Hollywood,’” Rudy stated. “Even I was expecting more ‘Chicago,’ but soon fell in love with the quiet surroundings and peaceful setting that is Wellman. Cornfields are beautiful!” To further illustrate his appreciation, he quoted an Iowa-based classic movie line (from Field of Dreams): “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

“And I wanted to totally immerse myself into the culture, so I immediately began calling Julie and Dan ‘Mom and Dad.”

To Rudy, that signified two things: 1) that meant treating each other like a family, and 2) it helped him not feel so homesick. The first month – two weeks, actually – were critical in his adjustment period. He came in open-minded and ready to learn.

And learn he did.

He cited Marcus Miller and Mary Forney’s classes…the history and literature. He loved the content of those subject areas, and also freely shared that he didn’t care for Math courses. He did say, however, that “Lynn (Yoder) made me like Math. Not ‘love’, but like! I got better!”

It wasn’t all serious learning, however, as Rudy also pointed to a couple of extra-curricular activities in which he was involved. One was Compassion, a club encouraging service and compassion for the world around us. The other was basketball, an experience he called “really, really amazing.” Not having played the game before, he still enjoyed the experience. Being 6’5” tall, one might expect Rudy to dominate the sport, but he readily admitted that wasn’t the case. He chuckled when recalling the time when then-coach Garrett Yoder looked at him during a time-out and simply said, “Dude, you’re 6’5”. Shoot the ball.”

Rudy promptly shot the ball when next presented the opportunity, and scored.

So what else stands out in Rudy’s mind?

“Well, I came to IMS as an agnostic. I left a believer in God.” It was then that he talked about “loving one another”, and the idea that the IMS community led by example.

“I don’t respond to pressure, so if someone had told me that that was the thing to do, that I must accept Jesus…I probably wouldn’t have,” he explained. “It was because of students and teachers living it and leading by example that I became a Christian.”

In Albania, the religious culture is largely non-descript. There was paganism in the past. There was Christianity for 1,000 years or so. Islam, too. And then there is Bektashism…a mixture of Christianity and Islam. The Mucaj family runs the spectrum, but Rudy returned to Albania as a Christian.

“No problem,” he said when asked how his family reacted to that. “They were very accepting. My dad said ‘as long as you are still Albanian!’ And I am.”

Since returning to Albania, Rudy capitalized on his experience at IMS by volunteering his time and getting involved in NGOs (non-government organizations) like YES: a program addressing the needs of both youth and the elderly. He has worked on “10-12 projects of different sorts” in the past couple of years, and has met the U.S. ambassador to Albania and other government officials.

In fact, Rudy aspires to someday become a politician or civic leader. It was a known fact while at IMS that he wanted to someday be prime minister of Albania. Now he has tempered that, but only a bit.

“I just want to help others, in whatever way I can. I don’t know, maybe I’ll just be the mayor of Fier!”

How to accomplish that? For starters, he has returned to the States to pursue higher education. While back in his hometown of 100,000 people, Rudy became aware of a Mennonite school about 100 miles away. He visited the institution, and there met Rose (Miller) Shetler, an IMS graduate (’77) and current advancement officer at Goshen (Ind.) College. Rose’s son was teaching at the school, and she was there visiting him. Long story short, he has now been in the States since Monday, August 3; he left to pursue studies at Goshen College on the 19th, and expects to receive his degree from there in four years.

From there, it’s back to Albania to “love others and make a difference. That’s all.”

He is fond of his 10 months in Iowa, and is glad to be back. He offered that “IMS is not a perfect school, but in a way it is. It’s a perfect place to explore yourself…and for me it was a perfect place!”

Rudy summed up his experience: “Many people look at an exchange opportunity as a year in their lifetime. For me, it was a lifetime in one year.”