Noteworthy Service
August 2006

“Noteworthy Service,” Ensign, Aug. 2006, 16–19

Noteworthy Service

For seven years Liz Shropshire has brought music and healing to the young people of war-damaged countries.

In the spring of 1999, Liz Shropshire, a single adult member of the Church living in California, began planning a sightseeing trip to Austria. A professional composer and music teacher, she had always wanted to visit Austria because of its rich musical heritage.

Shortly after Liz purchased her airplane ticket to Europe, she heard a heartbreaking radio account about the “ethnic cleansing” of minority groups then taking place in Kosovo. Thousands of ethnic Albanians of Kosovo were being systematically killed. Survivors, most of them women and children, were fleeing to makeshift refugee camps in neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

Liz says that as she heard of the suffering of these people, “my heart became so filled that I felt I needed to be there.” When she later saw television reports about the plight of the people in the refugee camps, she again felt prompted to go to them. “I thought, ‘I’ll just go and help somehow, even if it’s just to help the refugee women carry water to their tents.’”

Liz decided to give up her sightseeing trip to Austria and instead use her plane ticket to help her reach Albania. She joined an international volunteer group that worked with children in the refugee camps. She planned to give a month of service.

Before Liz left, a friend suggested that she teach music to the refugee children, whose homes, schools, and even musical instruments had been methodically destroyed in the war. The idea resonated with Liz, but she had no idea where she would get the necessary musical supplies and instruments.

When her family, friends, and ward members heard about what she wanted to do, everyone pitched in. Some individuals donated funds; others held a group yard sale and donated the proceeds. The Church Music Department donated four keyboards. Other corporations donated smaller musical instruments. By the time Liz was ready to leave, her bags were filled with hundreds of pennywhistles, harmonicas, drumsticks, music books, pencils, and a portable stereo system.

Liz was overwhelmed by the number of people who sacrificed to enable her to serve. “People told me they wanted to donate to the cause so that it was as if they were going with me,” she says.

By the time she was ready to leave in August 1999, the war in Kosovo had just ended. But the devastation had not. Many of the refugees who left the camps in Albania and Macedonia only entered other camps in Kosovo because their homes had been destroyed.

Because the war had ended, Liz was reassigned from Albania to work in the hard-hit city of Gjakovë, Kosovo. “As we were flying into Kosovo,” Liz says, “I saw burning homes, bombed-out bridges, and destroyed cities.”

The shelter camp in Gjakovë “was a horrible, horrible place,” says Liz. “There was one spigot of water for 360 people” and minimal sanitary facilities. In the rubble of Gjakovë’s bombed-out buildings, children were playing “executioner” with toy guns they had made, fighting and yelling at each other. Many ethnic Albanian young people loitered around their local school, which sat damaged and empty.

Not knowing a word of Albanian, Liz was fortunate to meet two young women who spoke some English. The girls helped Liz as she organized and taught free music classes for children in the camp and at the school. Before long, 300 children were participating. Children who had been fighting and yelling now walked around the camp playing harmonicas and pennywhistles. As Liz walked to her living quarters each evening, she would smile as she heard the children’s happy music coming from the camp.

Liz soon became a beloved figure in Gjakovë. “Everywhere I went, children would run up to me, hold my hands, and walk with me. I always had a crowd of children following me around, wanting to kiss and hug me,” she says. “I was amazed.”

Besides sharing her music, Liz also had opportunities to share the gospel. En route to Kosovo, she had stopped in Tirana, Albania, where she met Stephen Lenker, then president of the Albania Tirana Mission. Because the Church is not yet established in Kosovo, President Lenker asked Liz to find three young sisters who had joined the Church while living in an Albanian refugee camp but who had now returned to Kosovo. He gave Liz an address and a copy of the discussions for new members and asked Liz to teach the young women.

On Sunday, her only day off, Liz and her interpreter made the three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to the girls’ town. When Liz showed up at the girls’ home, “they cried and hugged me. They invited us in and showed me their dog-eared pamphlet of Joseph Smith’s testimony.” Each Sunday she was in Kosovo, Liz made the seven-hour round-trip journey to the girls’ home, teaching the gospel to them and their friends, family, and extended family.

When it came time for her to leave, her music students said, “Liz, you can’t leave; you just started this. How can you leave when there’s so much left to do?”

Liz thought hard about that question. “I knew that what I’d been doing in Kosovo felt more right than anything else I’d done in years. Before I came, I felt I’d just been living for myself. Looking at various experiences I’d had in my life, I felt that this was something I’d been prepared to do. I told the kids, ‘Don’t worry; I’m going to do everything I can to come back.’”

It has been seven years since Liz first went to Kosovo for what she thought would be just a month of service. The shelter camps and the bombed-out buildings are still there. But so is Liz, as often as she can be.

Liz has started a nonprofit organization that provides free musical training and instruments for local teachers, music classes for children in Gjakovë -area schools and shelter camps, training for youth volunteers (who now run the music programs when Liz is away), and summer songwriting classes that encourage young people to compose songs about ethnic tolerance and human rights. Liz has now expanded her programs into Northern Ireland and Uganda; to date, more than 8,000 people have benefited from them.

Now Liz divides her time between the countries in which she serves and the United States. Each time she returns to one of these countries, children in her music programs squeal with delight as they run to greet her.

And Liz continues to share the gospel. She shares the Church magazines and the Book of Mormon with all her friends who are interested. Rreza Vejsa, Liz’s interpreter and a volunteer in Liz’s Kosovo program, joined the Church while studying abroad as a college student. “I had been praying for a year to find a church when I met Liz and she started teaching me the gospel,” says Rreza. “Liz has been an angel from heaven for me.”

Liz has found guidance in one of her favorite scriptures, Doctrine and Covenants 11:8: “Even as you desire of me so it shall be done unto you; and, if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.” She comments: “When I read that scripture I just felt electrified because I realized that if I had the desire, Heavenly Father would show me what I could do with my life that would bring about ‘much good in this generation.’ Each one of us can ask that question, and He has promised to answer us.”

While Liz’s prayers have led her abroad, she stresses that others don’t need to leave home to give service that is just as meaningful. The important thing, she says, is to prayerfully ask what the Lord would have us do with our lives and then to follow those promptings. “I think we don’t realize how much we have to share,” she explains. “Some are blessed with things such as feeling comfortable in social gatherings or at Church meetings, and they can seek out those who are not. Some have strong self-worth and can help build it in others. Some people are blessed materially and can give of that.”

Finally, Liz emphasizes that whenever we give service, each one of us is sharing our “riches” with others. “I love what it says in Jacob 2:17–19, that we should share our riches with our brethren so that they too may be rich. I used to think that being rich simply meant having money. But I have realized that being rich means being able to share whatever it is we’re blessed with. Although I have never had less of the things of the world than I have now, I have never been so rich.”

Photographs courtesy of the Liz Shropshire Music Foundation

Far left: Liz’s students perform in a Kosovo concert. Far left inset: At a summer music camp in Kosovo, Liz leads in song 400 children who lost their parents in the war. Left inset: Roma Gypsy children sing in a Kosovo music class using shakers made from soda cans.

Left: Liz Shropshire with Kosovar children in a displaced persons camp in 2004. The families of these children were not able to return to their homes because of land mines. Destroyed homes are in the background.

Below: Some of the children with whom Liz shared her music when she first went to Kosovo shelters in 1999.

Above: Many displaced Kosovars, including this little girl—whose parents were killed in the war—and her grandmother, were befriended by Liz.

Below: A Kosovar boy sings “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree.” Liz has taught this Primary song to her music students in Kosovo and Northern Ireland, where it has become a favorite.

Right: Children in one of Liz’s music classes are thrilled to receive their pennywhistles.