I'm writing this feeling absolutely exhausted but also elated having just arrived home from spending 10 days in Albania. The time I spent there was extremely exhausting and challenging but also incredibly special. I love Albania - I've been 3 times now and I would love to go again. It's an interesting place.
For those of you who don't know where Albania is (Zak thought it was in Africa on our first trip), Albania is just across the sea from Italy bordering Macedonia, Kosovo and Greece and so yes, it is very hot. Kerith have links with some of the churches in Albania and for the past 3 years we have helped run a youth camp in a town called Pogradec. 14 of us went, spending 5 days in Elbasan where we put on evangelistic concerts (worship, drama and the Gospel), helped run the church meeting on the Sunday and evangelised on local radio before spending the next 5 days at the youth camp.
God is on the move in Albania and I wanted to share some of the cool stuff which inspired me while I was out there. Firstly the growth. Albania hasn’t been open to the Christian message for very long but just in the past 3 years I’ve been there we’ve seen growth. The first time we went the youth camp had about 80 young people but this year there were 160 with more wanting to come but being unable to because of limited space! That’s pretty significant growth which has come about because the churches and church leaders in Albania are on fire for God. God is building up some clear leaders amongst the young people who, since the first time we met them, have been transformed by Jesus. It’s so exciting to be able to come in and see this, although what we see is only the product of persistent hard work by the churches in Albania.
This year as a team we really stepped up our game and strived to do more than we’d done before. Between leading worship, preaching, running workshops and teaching dramas there really isn’t much rest which, combined with about 6 or 7 hours sleep every night, could easily lead to some fallouts. I am so glad to say that we stayed united as a team and everyone stayed focussed on our mission. I was so impressed by our team stepping up in different ways (Tom now speaks fluent Albanian and managed to befriend the whole camp it seemed.....although Liam and Tom did make a 13 year old girl cry...) but in seriousness this year was the most challenging but by far the most rewarding and effective. From a personal point of view we taught some of the Albanians the ‘Everything’ Drama throughout the week which they performed on the Friday. It wasn’t without its struggles but seeing the response they received in the Friday meeting was incredible. The journey of Marina (the main girl in the drama), who accepted Jesus into her life that morning, was so clearly marked out by God – if you ask me in person I’ll explain just how specifically God marked out events for her at the camp.
For me personally I saw God do some big things. I was asked to baptise some of the young people from Tirana which was a huge privilege, particularly as it was the first time I’d ever baptised anyone. It had been raining the hour before but when we the time came for the baptisms (which were in a lake by the way!!!) the sun came out and it was pretty special. God gave me a Word of Knowledge for someone which I was weighing up whether or not I should give until God brought that person directly to me – so I kind of had to give it. I believe we saw a girl released from a demonic spirit in her life. After she’d been prayed for by Helen she said that her family had been cursed and, if you’d seen her behaviour whilst being prayed for then you’d see that there was something major going on. A highlight for me was also getting to preach Simon’s message of the ‘Peach and the Coconut’. This had an extra twist in that I quickly discovered whilst preaching that ‘peach’ in Albanian sounds like something quite rude (I won’t say what) and so was met with loud jeers from some Albanian boys. However God moved powerfully and we saw a big response for salvation at the end of that meeting.
We don’t know the exact number of people who responded to accept Jesus into their life throughout the mission trip but we worked out as a team on the way back that there were about 80 responses at the camp and the concerts. I hope this encourages you in your faith that God is working at large around the world and I’d ask that you keep Albania and the churches there in your prayers.