Highlights of James’s recent visit to the Balkans.
I have not been to the Balkans for two years and with the virus, lurking like a bully who has faced a setback and trying to make a comeback, I headed to Albania. I was greeted at Tirana Airport by the smiling faces of Hervin Fushekati and Erion Cuni and whisked off to visit Erion’s church and have lunch. I met TEN friends; Fetije at Riverbank Church, Edijola and Gjeorgji from Mission Possible Albania and Turi and Noku. Ignoring childhood advice, I talked with strangers too. The hotelier in Tirana met my need for a cup of tea one afternoon and fascinating conversations with new ISTL lecturers from Hungary, a young Albanian couple watching football and missionaries from El Salvador were enlightening.
As we visited a museum in the mountain town of Kruje, Hervin, ever the tourist guide, (as well as church and theological college leader) told the story of Skanderbeg, a Christian Albanian hero. Mountains were our constant companions as we drove through Albania on into North Macedonia. Erion broke the journey for me to meet new TEN connections, Ardit and Ranja. They are ISTL students sacrificially giving themselves to ministry in rural borderlands. I was picked up in North Macedonia by Petre Petrov, leader of the Evangelical Church in North Macedonia. We stopped by the exquisite Lake Ohrid in Struga and met with local pastors, Emil and Vesna. Over four days we drove through apple orchards, vineyards, tomato plantations and tobacco farms. I had a wonderful day with the partners in Bitola, North Macedonia and then it was south to Gevgelio where I was again struck by the commitment of those serving God in these nations.
Zoran, and his son Mile and wife Katerina were building a campsite as they fulfil their call to share the love of Jesus. Travelling north again, we paused in Radovish where Robert and Krasi are planting a church. On to Shtip for the night and then to Kumanovo and Skopje before meeting Artur Krasniqi at the Kosovo border. We took the route the British army took in 1999 to Pristina. My stay in Kosovo allowed me to meet the team at Fellowship of the Lord’s People Church and visit their amazing work through Mercy Ministries. I was taken to the second-hand clothes shops that helps sustain the ministry and presented with a new shirt. A visit to a densely populated Roma community in Pristina where narrow streets, ragged smiling children and ramshackle houses reminded me of the partners’ commitment to love those forgotten by most. The Mercy Ministries team were there to give out food parcels. After a visit to the Illyria Bible School, I was taken to the House of Hope in Milosheva, where Alban, another young visionary, told me of his plans for a new youth ministry in Kosovo.
For nine energetic days, I was blown away by the commitment of marginalised Christians, caught off guard by stunning views, delighted by great food, enchanted by the telling of stories, struck by the kindness of strangers, shocked by the poverty I saw, surprised by the toothless smiles grinning amidst that same poverty and wondered at the generosity of Transform Europe Network partners. It was such an encouragement to see how you as a supporter, TEN and our partners co-work for the Kingdom in the Balkans.