In November I visited Albania with a three of our younger leaders in The Crowded House. One of the people we met was a young man called Gjergje. He is a Roma. When he was a child his brother went to a Christian youth event. Gjergje saw his notes which said, ‘Jesus loves all the children’. He was moved by this and wanted to go so he asked his brother if he could come along. His brother said he would take, but only if he did his brother’s duties of looking after the family sheep – which Gjergje did! Gjergje became a Christian. Soon he had started a small group for his peers.
Aged 12 he walked through the snow across the mountains to Greece to earn money. There he got a job carrying stone in a quarry (21 tonnes a day) and lived in a tool shed. After a while a family took him in and cared for him. But he felt God calling him back to Albania to his group. So aged 15 he was a church planter.
At 21 he married an English missionary called Esther. They have two twin daughters aged 6, Naomi and Matilda. Gjergje and Esther live in a village which (unusually) is a mixed Roma and Albanian village. Their home is where the church meets and also functions as a kind of community centre. But the church is small with around 10 people. With so many people leaving the villages to find work overseas, you have to keep on moving forwards simply to stand still.
Later the same day we visited a project in the villages around a town called Korçe in the heart of Albania – more in the mountains. We met a team doing ‘community health evangelism’ – a programme that combines health education with evangelism. It was very impressive. Simple stuff: health education courses combined with discussion of spiritual topics plus helping the community make changes for itself.
We spent the afternoon visiting families. At each family we were served more raki (a kind of Albanian moonshine) and fruit. It was all very relational. You could seriously get drunk doing this work! The villages are much poorer than the towns. They survive mostly on money sent back from relatives working overseas. Yet everyone we visited was very hospitable and welcoming. They kept giving us grapes from their vines. We got more from each family we visited!
If you would like to get involved in partnering with local churches to reach the Balkans then contact Brian Jose of Radstock: brian [at] radstock [dot] org, http://www.radstock.org.