Albania is a small and mostly mountainous nation, with a long Adriatic coastline, and land borders with Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro. Until 1991, Albania was subject to one of communism’s harshest and most isolationist regimes, which left it one of Europe’s poorest and least-developed countries. Although much progress has since been made in raising living standards and renewing the infrastructure, Albania is still very poor and EU membership remains far off. Traditionally a rural economy, many people have left the countryside to seek work in the towns, or abroad, such as Italy and Greece. Albanians are a proud and independent people, but as in neighbouring lands, 500 years of Ottoman domination left a strong imprint on their culture. Albania remains a patriarchal society with clearly defined gender roles and the family centre-most.
FROM RELIGION TO FAITH
Before the Ottoman Empire came in the 14th century, the lands which are modern Albania were Catholic and Orthodox. Half a millennia of Turkish rule left much of Albania with a Muslim identity but the Catholic and Orthodox faiths survived. There was no Protestant church of any size. The post-WW2 communists ruthlessly suppressed all religious identity and practice, famously declaring in 1967 that Albania was the world’s first atheist state. After the fall of communism, many people returned to the religious identities which their families had previously held; the early 1990s saw much outreach activity by evangelical believers from abroad. Today the Protestant church numbers about 8,000, in many denominations. Finance and influence from the Islamic world has seen much mosque-building. For many Albanians however, religion is a matter of cultural identity, and practice is heavily tinged with folk-beliefs and superstition.
Vision statement: “ To see the Albanian church strengthened and self-supporting, with the vision to transform not only their own community for Christ, but also communities beyond their own borders and culture.”
OM was one of the first mission agencies to enter Albania after the end of communism, discovering a great spiritual hunger, especially amongst young people. By the mid 90s, OM had planted four churches. Our vision of church planting, and church-plant support remains central to all we do. OM workers help train and mentor local believers, so that churches thrive under Albanian leadership; encourage Albanians into outreach both at home and abroad, and serve holistically among local communities. OM has three teams currently.
Durres team – OM Albania’s first church plant was in this major coastal city, and support of the Disciples’ Church is a key aspect of team ministry. Another major emphasis is outreach amongst the 50,000 inhabitants of a huge area of reclaimed swamp land, the Keneta. There is little infrastructure here, and OM staff are seeking to address local needs. For example, by running a community health clinic; teaching English to local kids and giving support to families with disabled children. Short-term teams have provided valuable input to OM community projects, such as the construction of several footbridges which improve residents’ access to their homes.
Lushnje team – Lushnje is a large central town, home to another of OM’s original church plants (also called the Disciples Church). OM staff serve in support of local leadership, which includes assistance in pioneering new churches in nearby villages. Other long-term initiatives include coordinating of women’s ministries amongst all local congregations; and holistic outreach to Roma street kids, partnering with local believers (from the Disciples Church and another congregation). Short-term teams visit frequently, especially in the summer.
Polican team – Also in the southern mountains, the town of Polican was the location of a large OM church plant, the Free Evangelical Church, in the early 1990s. However subsequent high unemployment caused many residents, including believers, to move away. Despite later formal closure of the church, some local believers still met to pray, asking God for a new church, and were encouraged by visiting OM groups. In September 2010 a new OM team was launched in Polican to meet the needs of local people through a variety of outreach initiatives. The ultimate goal is to re-plant the church under Albanian leadership. The first signs of “new growth” are now beginning. Evangelism and discipleship is a high priority here.