Ruth’s Impact trip to Albania: Greater things have yet to come here.
This month, Ruth spent 10 days in Albania as part of her Impact Year – an opportunity to serve the wider church family around the world. If you’re thinking of doing Impact in the future, aside from the greatness of the rest of the year, this trip is an argument to go for it all on its own.
Here are some of the highlights …
About five years ago, just outside the gates of the old walled city of Elbasan, a nondescript patch of ground became an archaeological dig
site. Funded by the EU, the dig uncovered the ruins of an ancient church building from over 1500 years ago. The implications of the discovery were so controversial that the digging ground to a halt. But what was so significant about a bunch of old stones?
For centuries, Albania has been held under outside influence, most notably by the Ottoman Empire from Turkey (who introduced the nation to Islam) and the Communist regime that saw Albania isolated for 20 years and declared an atheist state. Albanian Muslims doggedly maintain that Islam was the first religion to come to Elbasan, but these humble ruins pre-date any Islamic influence in the city. The Gospel came first, and the uncovering of these ruins at the present time feels like God reminding believers, “I’ve not forgotten your nation”. In a city that bore the footsteps of the Apostle Paul himself, it is a powerful present day picture that God’s heart for Albania has never grown cold, and He has greater things in store for their nation.
It has been a privilege for me to see a snapshot of what God is doing and is going to do to extend His kingdom in Albania. From the very first church meeting we attended as a team, God put a song on my heart for the city of Elbasan, and one of my trip highlights was declaring this and other truth from the balcony of a 7th floor flat overlooking the city in one of our team worship times.
“You’re the God of this city
You’re the king of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation
Greater things have yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done in this city.
Greater things have yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done here.”
As it turned out, the exact same song had been brought when the Impact team came last year. God’s heart never changes.
Elbasan Christian Fellowship, the church we went to serve, has a congregation currently numbering around 30 people. They may be small in number now, but the impact they have in their community is totally intrinsic. Our main focus during the time we spent there was preparing for and leading a session for Gate of Hope – their work with under-privileged children in the city. Many of the boys who go to the club have never received any parental discipline at home, let alone any affection, but are often beaten and made to go out begging on the streets to feed their parents’ destructive habits. To allow them the chance to have fun and be children is precious, and you can tell that all the boys wholly respect Pastor Ilir for his commitment and care towards them, even if they are a bit boisterous sometimes.
I took the girls and a few of the much younger boys down to the basement to teach them how to weave with shoelaces on the simple wooden looms we had made out of an old roof beam. The language barrier between us meant conversation was sparse, but concentration levels were (I’m told, unusually!) high, and there was a real sense of God’s peace ruling the room. One little girl called Adalina took to weaving like a duck to water – I’ve never seen someone pick it up so quickly! The hours of sanding wood, filing nails and logistical planning paid off; to see the children enjoying being creative and proudly holding up their creations at the end of our hour was amazing. After all the nerves and uncertainty as to whether it was appropriate to weave with them at all, it was incredible to see so many answers to our prayers.
One of the most significant prophetic words that came on the trip was that God is going to grow the church in Elbasan to number over 500 in the near future – what an awesome vision! While we were there it felt like we were witness to the very beginnings of this explosive growth, particularly in the lives of the children and young people. At a youth meeting, we were able to pray for a girl’s wrist and
she was completely healed, then in response one of the boys came forward asking for us to pray that he would receive the gift of tongues – which he did. The next day he then proceeded to share a prophetic word in church for the first time ever and witness one of his friends give his life to Jesus! What makes it even more exciting is that Pastor Ilir has for a long time been eager for the church to engage more in the work of the Holy Spirit, so to witness that prayer beginning to be answered was an honour!
Huge thanks must go out to all of you who prayed for us. We saw God answering so many prayers – our travel was safe, we bonded incredibly well as a team, had minimal culture shock and most of all God used us practically and spiritually to encourage the church. In many ways it’s impossible to quantify how we helped them, but we are all trusting that God’s Spirit in us imparted something to the church family that will last beyond our short 10 days with them. Do keep praying for the church to grow and for the resources to come for their building project, and that God would continue to use them to extend His kingdom and be the answer to the major issues of poverty, blood feuds, prostitution and addiction in their nation.
“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous work among the peoples.”
1 Chron 16:24