church planting

Summer in Albania

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Summer has arrived in this part of the world, and our daily temperature is usually in the mid 30°c, which changes the way life happens here. Our daily routine at the moment often includes an afternoon siesta, and more time meeting with people in coffee shops for a drink. We are currently making a list of people we haven’t seen in a while so that we can meet them for a coffee and a catch up while life is less busy.

Team. Some of our team members are now on Home Assignment and all the kids are off school for over two months. This means our team meetings take on a different feel, as they are more often like family outings together. We are yet to get together this summer because last week we were all away together with the Kosovo and Bulgarian missionaries for our annual ‘Prayer Days.’ This was a time to focus on deepening relationships, studying scripture (1 Peter) and praying together.

Community Centre. In our last newsletter we told you about the new vision that the pastor, Erion, has been developing regarding beginning a community centre called “Ethos” in the main church building. The vision has developed. There is now a venue for youth to go to learn, or practice, their English, learn a musical instrument, or just to hang out together with other Christians. With a short term team they have also begun to make some contacts. Pray for the centre as it develops. 

Main Church. With the development of the community centre, the main congregation has now begun meeting in the building where the church plant is based (the majority of the congregation actually live in that area), and a new leadership team is being set up to oversee and lead the main congregation as the pastor’s main focus will be on the community centre. Some people are struggling with the change as it was done quickly, and without a lot of time for consultation. Our role has developed to support and work with the new leadership team, who are largely unprepared for the task ahead.

Outreach to Poliçan. Murray, Bujar and Genci have begun regular weekly visits to Poliçan with the aim to develop a number of small Bible study groups.The first Bible study group met last week, and it was a positive and encouraging time.

 

Encouragement in Albania

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We had three months travelling around New Zealand at the start of the year, beginning  in Auckland and going as far south as Dunedin. We especially enjoyed getting to know our grandchildren a bit better. It was also such a pleasure to be in New Zealand when our son Shaun proposed to Tiana. They plan to get married on the January 6, so we will be making another quick trip back to New Zealand for the occasion. 

It has been very encouraging returning to our church in Tirana, Albania, after three months away. Here’s some of those encouraging things:

New people. One of the first things we noticed was quite a number of new people that weren’t coming to church when we left. One family has moved to Tirana from Berat and are now living in our area, and have joined the church. Another woman lives near the church and recently became a Christian. The thing that we noticed most about her is how hungry she is to understand the Bible.

Bible study groups. Our Bible study groups continued while we were away, and both groups finished Book 1 in the Life of Christ series we began studying with them before we left, and now they are now ready to move on to Book 2. A new Bible study group is going to begin with the new church members.

A new vision. Erion, the pastor, has been praying about a new vision to develop the main church building into a ‘community centre.’ Here in Albania there’s not a lot for young people to do, so the vision is for a centre where they can go to learn or practice English, learn a musical instrument or just to hang out together with other Christians.

Outreach to Poliçan. Erion took the men to visit Poliçan regularly while Murray was away. They continued to build relationships with the group the men were meeting with, and Erion managed to develop some other relationships as well.

Welcome to David and Anne. Soon after Féy returned, our ECM team in Albania welcomed a new family from Germany. David, Anne and Leonora stayed with us for their first month while they found and prepared an apartment. David is a psychologist and Anne a midwife. A lot of people in Albania suffer from a lack of hope, both for themselves and their country. David and Anne’s vision is to use their training in connection to the church to help to develop hope. Their desire is to invest in youth and young families to help them practically, as well as help them find a new home in Jesus. For the next year or two, their focus will be on learning Albanian as they prepare to serve here in Albania.

Celebrations and Retreats

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To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Europe the Evangelical churches in my area have organised a series of events throughout this year. It was a joy to be at the first of these events and to see churches around the region coming together to celebrate.

Our church had a women’s retreat early February. I was asked to share a small refection from the Bible. It’ll was my first time sharing in Spanish with the Church Women – exciting but a little nerve wracking too!

Fervent Prayer It’s clear here that prayer is key in seeing any church planting work spring up and community transformation take place. Recently a group of us have begun investigating how we can pray in a more informed way for our region through prayer and historical research. I’m part of a group which meets weekly to prayer walk around a particular suburb of the city. It’s one of the highlights of my week to be learning with these women and to encourage one another to be persistent pray-ers.

Please be praying for more people to catch this vision for prayer and for others to join our small prayer and research group. Also pray for God to be working in the hearts of my non believing friends, making them curious and soft towards him. And give thanks for the Reformation celebrations the year and for the churches in this region who are meeting together during the year.

I keep being thankful to God for your prayer and support in other ways. Thank you!

From Albania and Back

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When we first wrote this our suitcases were half packed, and we are nearly ready to leave our home here in Albania for a few months. We’ve enjoyed the holiday season here in New Zealand and have now turned our attention to a couple of months of speaking engagements around the country.

Outreach to Poliçan

The highlight for Murray at the end of 2016 was supporting a men’s outreach from our church to the men in a town called Poliçan nearly three hours drive away. In our last newsletter we wrote: The men (in Tirana) have had a growing concern for the church in the hometown where many of them first became Christians. Murray is supporting their plans to visit Poliçan every few weeks, to encourage the men that still live there. The first visit will be on the 15th October. 

Most of these men became Christians many years ago, but for a variety of reasons they stopped meeting together. Since we last wrote, Murray and his team have visited Poliçan five times, and in total they are having contact with 12 different men. Each time they go they contact as many of the men as possible, and then meet with them over two days. They usually drive down on Friday afternoon, stay overnight and then come back on Saturday afternoon. On the most recent visit the men began a new Bible study series which they plan to continue while we are gone.

Tirana Bible Studies

In our church in Tirana we have continued our small Bible study groups. Murray has been discipling and studying the Bible with five men, however for a variety of reasons, he has particularly focused on the two in particular that are leading the outreach to Poliçan.

Féy has continued with a group of three women, and has seen them growing in their faith, and in their understanding of the Scriptures. She is encouraged that they are not dependent on her, but continued to meet and study together each week even when she has been away. Her other group of two women were finding it more difficult to meet regularly as one of them is was working long hours leading up to the New Year celebrations.

A number of other small groups began at the beginning of last year are struggling to keep traction. The biggest challenge has been from employer pressure to work long hours, which is hard not to do, when you know that there are 100 other people ready to take your job.

At the end of last year in church we acknowledged eleven church members who had finished Bible study courses over this past year.

Greek Short-term Team update

In November Féy planned to take a team of nine Albanians on a short-term mission trip to Athens to work alongside a Greek church that has a significant ministry to immigrants. As often happens here in Albania, the make up of the team changed by the day leading up to their departure, with a 75% turnover in team members. She ended up with a group of four (instead of nine) Albanian guys on the team, aged 21, 26 and two who are 52. Féy was a bit concerned as to how it would go leading a group of guys (especially two being in their 50’s), but it was a great team.

After the uncertain start (changing team members and having to leave on a bus 12 hrs later than planned), everyone had a really positive experience. It was good watching the team as they were challenged by different discussions, and the things they saw and experienced.

Over the week we experienced three different styles of church services and took part in two feeding ministries (giving meals to people hit by the financial crisis). The guys also got to hang out with homeless men who came to the church centre for showers or just to have a coffee and game of dominoes. The poor community in Athens are very international, and came from all walks of life. We also had some quality discussions with a local Greek pastor, an Albanian church leader, and an Albanian missionary (his wife is American) about the situation here in Athens.

As a result of their experiences and discussions, all the team members were inspired and challenged, and we have heard that there has already been an immediate impact and change in their ministries here in Albania. However, a lasting impression the team did not expect to experience was the lack of hope they saw in many of the people they met with in Greece.

One of the reason’s Féy took a team to Greece was because ECM is looking for ways to support the evangelical churches in Greece. She was able to follow up on some important contacts in Athens, and the plan now is for the ECM International Leadership Team to hold one of their meetings in 2017 in Athens. So from many perspectives it was a very successful trip.

A new church partnership

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Murray and I are pleased to say we have begun partnering with the Kisha e Perendise (Church of God) church and church plant in a densely populated suburb called Mëzez, on the outskirts of Tirana. We will be working with Erion and his wife Gena, and Elton and his wife Mariana. Erion is the pastor of the older church (planted eight years ago), which is at one end of suburb, and Elton (and Mariana) are leading the new church plant on the other side of the neighbourhood. The four of them form the basis of the leadership team for both churches, and are in their mid 30’s, and are bivocational. Consequently they are not able to work in the church full-time and need help – especially with the new church.

They have asked us to do four things:

Join their leadership team for regular monthly meetings. Meet regularly with Elton and Mariana in a mentoring relationship. Disciple the older folk from both churches. There are around ten older people (men and women) who come to one of the churches, but culturally it is difficult for people in their 30’s to disciple people of older generations. Murray to help in the church plant – however we are yet to work out the specifics of what this will look like.

We feel that we have a reasonable understanding of their church situation, leadership style, struggles, and what they want/need from us and how we can support and work alongside them. We confirmed that we will work with them, and will review the situation in a year.

 

September road trips

In September we went on a Balkan road trip from Albania to Kosovo, then through Macedonia to Bulgaria (Sofia & Burgas on the Black Sea) and on to Romania (Vanju Mare & Timisoara), and then back to Albania via Serbia and Kosovo.

The purpose of the trip was to support a new missionary family in Bulgaria, and then for Féy to meet with other ECM missionaries in each of those countries to encourage them and discover more about their ministries.

It was an intense two weeks, covering 2810 kms and meeting with 10 different people/couples/families who are involved in ministries ranging from anti-traffiking, church planting, a halfway house for single mothers, translating and publishing, children’s summer camps, pastoral support for pastors, and training.

This last weekend Féy also flew up to Austria for four nights to meet the missionaries in Austria and to attend the Austrian teams Prayer Days.

Baptisms in Albania

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Over the last eight months the Shalom church plant, which is made up of about 15 adults and 20 children, has been doing some basic biblical discipleship topics from the first SEAN course, “Abundant Life.” During that time we covered 18 different topics including repentance from sin, belief and forgiveness, how to pray, and what it means to be a member of a local church.

After we had done the topic of Baptism we asked who was ready for baptism and seven people responded. We spent a number of weeks going over what baptism meant with everyone in the church to make sure they all understood what was happening. We chose a day at the end of July for the baptisms, but had to postpone it until the September 14 as some had work and others planned to be away on holiday with their families.

We met with those to be baptised the day before the event and discovered that another woman wanted to be baptised as well. Though she was a new Christian, we agreed that she was ready. On the day, an 80 year old woman who was a regular part of the Shalom Church but has been away for the summer said “why can’t I be baptised too? Why didn’t you ask me?” So we ended up baptising her as well – by pouring water on her instead of immersion because of her age. A total of nine people were baptised that day.

 

Introducing God.

For the past year, Murray has been quietly working on making the Introducing God course culturally relevant and personalising the illustrations. As he finished each lesson, either a friend translated it, or Murray did the translation himself with our language teacher.

The result is 11 booklets in simple, easy to read A4 format. Since finishing them, Murray has given the first booklet to ten different men, including neighbours, the local mechanic, the men associated with the Shalom church and two others.

The plan is to follow each lesson up with a discussion over coffee, so he is going to be busy during these next few months working through the series with these men. ‘M,’ a nominal muslim taxi driver, was the first to read through the series with Murray and he became a Christian about half way through the course.

 

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Church planting in Albania

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The Shalom church is ticking along nicely, however it is currently more like a house church that meets in a building rather than a church. Each Sunday up to 11 adults and half a dozen teenagers meet for a bible study and prayer, while the children have a separate programme. On Saturdays Valbona runs the main children’s programme.

With Kent and Angie Morton now living near the church we hope for more contact with the families living around the church. Féy and I will be thinking and praying about moving into the neighbourhood at the end of the year too.

Progress with people’s faith is usually slow and hard to measure, but we have some encouraging signs with 6 people (4 adults and 2 teenagers) thinking about baptism this summer.

Pray for those thinking about Baptism. It is a big step for the adults to do such a decisive act and invite all thier families and it is easy to put it off and not bother. Pray for them also as we make as sure as possible  that they understand this Christian Faith that we are teaching and what we believe. It is going well.

“M,” the 44 year old taxi driver whose wife and two boys come to the Shalom church continues to learn about the Christian faith. If Murray doesn’ call him to meet up, he calls Murray, which is really encouraging.