David King – UK
Towards the end of January this year, a small team consisting of Kevin and Emma Reilly, Onno Weststrate and myself, had the joy of visiting Shkodër, a leading city in Albania. Our purpose was to meet Colin and Elida Stephen in person, and bring encouragement to Resurrection and Life, Evangelical Church which Colin leads there.
Albania has been referred to as ‘Europe’s unpolished diamond,’ which to my mind is a particularly apt description. It is a nation steeped in history, even as it is breathtakingly beautiful with its rivers, lakes and glorious mountains. If the church is anything to go by, its people are wonderfully hospitable.
Albania is a country in Southeastern Europe and shares land borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south. Tirana is its capital and largest city, followed by Durrës, Vlorë and Shkodër. Shkodër is the centre for Catholicism in Albania, but the majority religion in the city is a nominal form of Islam.
The Revolutions of 1991 concluded the fall of communism in Albania and led to the establishment of the current Republic of Albania. Religious freedoms and practises had been severely curtailed during the communist era with all forms of worship being outlawed. Albania was proclaimed the world’s first atheist state in 1967 as all religious practises were brutally put down. We had the chilling experience of visiting some town centre dungeons and torture chambers where precious saints suffered and died most horribly. Thank God for their courage, and for the unstoppable work of the Holy Spirit.
Colin left Aberdeen in Scotland twenty six years ago as a missionary to Albania. Elida, his wife, is Albanian. God has provided the church in Shkodër with a marvellous building and a solid community of believers. The church is very much alive despite some of the challenges they are facing together in this season. The team got to share in various activities over the weekend and we so appreciated sharing in the brightly sung worship and faith filled prayers of the saints.
It was heartening to see a good spread of young people in the church, but sad to learn how hard it is to retain them. This is due to the endemic corruption which sabotages foreign investment and devours future hope for its people. Those who go to university and remain are likely to end up working in a call centre, we were told. Like so many post-communist nations, young people seek to escape to find a more prosperous way forward. We thank God for those like Onno in our ranks, who are exploring practical ways of helping to reverse this trend in our churches.
As so often happens on these trips, something of the soul of the nation came home with us. Please join us in praying for Colin, Elida and the church. Please also pray for an end to corruption, and for the nation to experience a powerful move of the Holy Spirit.