To conclude my Impact year, a team of those on my course went to Elbasan, Albania to support Bashkësia e Krishterë Elbasan (Elbasan Christian Fellowship) - a Catalyst church. Albania is situated between Montenegro, Kosovo and Greece to the East, with a short distance across the Adriatic sea to the west bordering it with Italy. It is the poorest country in Europe, and is 40th in Europe on the Human Development Index, however it is growing quickly into an exporter and tourist destination, and has been recently transitioning towards becoming a democracy. Elbasan is a major city within Albania, with a population of 126,000.
Until now, I have never been a part of a mission team, and I was excited yet nervous to experience a new culture, new language, and to get involved with various outreach projects.
Prior to the trip, I felt God speak to me from Acts 2. During Pentecost, the people were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in different tongues. Other people visiting from all over the world heard their own languages being spoken and were in awe, that through these people God was speaking to everyone, no matter what their background, culture or language.
Peter then goes onto preach a beautiful sermon illustrating how everything they knew about God before this point had been pointing to Jesus, his death and resurrection, and what he achieved by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for mankind. The Holy Spirit was a free gift gained because of what Jesus had accomplished on the cross, and it bought people together into a family, united around Jesus.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, three-thousand new Christians devoted themselves to the disciples’ teaching and began to share ‘together in unity’. They would give to anyone, would break bread and eat together, and were praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people (v46-47). This togetherness inspired me as I went to Albania – that although visiting a church in a completely new culture was a huge learning curve for me, I was together with God’s people in a mission field of people that were all invited into God’s family because of what Jesus had achieved.
The promise that the Holy Spirit ‘is for you and your children and for all who are far off’ (v39a) was such an encouragement to me. Going beyond the home comforts of Oxford pushed me, but as I stood worshipping with the church on Sunday, I felt a part of God’s wider church family. It seems obvious, but Jesus reaches to everyone – street children in Elbasan, as much as university students in Oxford, as much as those were far off in first century Israel. As we sung ‘I surrender’ and ‘Worthy of it all’ in both English and Albanian, it was a sure glimpse of what heaven will look like – people from every tribe and tongue praising God with one voice.
The three main areas we worked on during our time in Elbasan, were ‘Gate of Hope’ – a children’s ministry aimed at street children in Elbasan, the church’s blind ministry, and helping the church with manual labour. We also got involved with house groups, the youth group, and were a part of the Sunday services.
Gate of Hope
Several of our days were spent with 5-13 year olds at ‘Gate of Hope’. This is a social group run for children across the city, from kids who have grown up in the church, to street children. On our first morning we led games for the children before they sung and were taught from the bible. As someone who is naturally more reserved, I was certainly out of the comfort zone as I led games (via a translator) to 40 excitable children. However, the nerves soon faded and the smiles around the room were inspiring, especially in the knowledge of some challenging circumstances. A particular highlight was going on a day trip to the beach with the children, many of whom hadn’t been to the beach before. It was great to support this amazing ministry in Elbasan – giving children a chance to understand that Jesus loves them and has a plan for their lives.
With a handshake and a ‘mirë’ we introduced ourselves to the guests at the church’s blind ministry morning. We had the chance to share testimonies and stories of what God was doing in our lives and then heard similar stories from them. We performed an English worship song – and clapped as we sung to involve the guests in what we were doing. One particular guest shared how despite having the challenge of no vision, she had become more reliant on God as a result and is actually grateful for the impairment in growing her relationship with God – what faith!
Another highlight of my trip was being able to visit one of the church’s house groups. We were welcomed into the home of a lady in the church and spent time praying for each other. Whilst we did sometimes use a translator, the Holy Spirit was so present and despite cultural differences we all prayed like we were old friends. The culture of hospitality in Albania is amazing, and the feeling of being welcomed in was certainly something that stood out – by church members, but also by everybody out on the street. It really feels like the general public in Albania are one big family.
The two weeks in Albania sure stretched me, not least because the temperature was rarely below 35c! Being a part of the team, serving other Christians, worshipping God together as one, has been such a blessing to my walk with God. I have met so many great people, but have certainly been humbled and learnt to be praying intercessionally for other cultures as well as my own circumstances. Thank you God for the opportunity, and thank you so much to everybody that supported me financially and with prayer!