The roots of the Methodist mission in Albania go back to the 19th century. In those days, American missionaries (later increasingly replaced by Albanians) not only preached and taught the Gospel, but also provided help in daily life. Their efforts to provide the populace with basic schooling were of especial importance. For many years the “Protestants” ran the only school for girls in Albania, and they also played an important role in the development of a common alphabet to integrate Albania’s various regions and dialects. Unfortunately, this hopeful work was not graced with longevity.
Albanian Communism took a strict and destructive form like no other in Europe, and when the country opened up politically in the early 1990s, it was in ruins. A process of cautious reconstruction followed, and even though it is sometimes overshadowed by unrest and tension, this process is irreversible.
In 1992, dedicated members of the UMC congregation in Wismar, Germany began to support this process by contributing material goods to Albania and rebuilding the school infrastructure in the mountain villages of southeastern Albania. Their dedication has been productive. The people in Bishnica, a poor mountain village of 800, began to take interest in the driving force behind this work, and with the formation of a full-time team of Albanian and German Christians in Bishnica, the next step was taken. The team continued and expanded its charity work and evangelization. Through these efforts, about two dozen people discovered their faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized in July of 1998. This represented the founding of the UMC in Bishnica. Since then, the Church has continued to develop: it now boasts about 100 members in Bishnica and other villages in the vicinity or — because of the migration — in the further neighbourhood.
Most of the people in Albania are still very poor. Shipments of badly needed goods and assistance from abroad are still very welcome, especially in the mountains. By replacing dilapidated furniture, patching leaky roofs, and repairing broken heaters, the aid workers contribute significantly to improving the working conditions in community buildings and schools. A medical/nursing service, a reforestation project, and the founding of a boarding school for children from distant villages where the schools have been closed, all contribute to securing a brighter future for the people in the mountains.
In spite of these improvements, more and more people are leaving Bishnica and the surrounding villages in order to look for work, to study, or simply to seek their fortunes in the larger cities. It is a great challenge to follow them and use the existing Emails to approach more people, but it has, for example, led to the founding of small Methodist groups in Pogradec, Tirana and Korca.
Two young Albanians who began their theological studies in the Graz-Waiern program in Austria in 2004 will return to Albania in Summer 2008 and will take over responsibility. This is an important step towards a new
future, in which the UMC in Albania will be led and shaped by Albanians.
Although there are loose Emails between the Methodists in Albania and in Macedonia (e.g. in the International Youth Camp in Macedonia), structural cooperation is not possible. For this reason, the Methodist work in Albania, which so far has not been officially registered as a Church, is under the direct supervision of the Bishop of the UMC in Central and Southern Europe.
This week we pray for
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