Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mission Without Borders in Albania:Visit to Berat


On a cold winter day last January (2017), my last full day in Albania, I was able to take a bus from Tirana to the seaside town of Durres.  There I was greeted by Mission Without Borders coordinators and we journeyed  south to Berat.

Berat is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the castle complex overlooking the old city dates from at least 200 BC (when it was conquered and burned by Rome).  


Berat UNESCO 2016 AlbaniaWe traveled to the top of the rocky hill and from there you can see for miles- the river Osum runs right through the city and  two mountains on either side.  On one mountain there was a man made monument that at one time spelled ENVER (for the communist dictator).  Students corrected that after the revolution.  It now spells NEVER in large white stones and whitewash.  Hoxha banned all religion in 1967 and from then until 1991, Albania was declared “the world’s only atheist state”.  All churches were closed and clerics murdered or imprisoned.  Hoxha defeated fascism after WW2 only to bring an even more extreme form of totalitarianism.

At the top of the mountain you can see for miles.  There were at one time 20 churches in the historical fortress.  Albania was one of the first regions reached with the gospel in the first century.  “So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum [ancient Albania], I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.” (St. Paul)  It is known that there were at least 40 Christian families in Durres by the end of the first century.

Berat
Berat is known as the “city of a thousand windows”  From the fortress, looking down on the city it looks as if the houses were built upon each other because they are built on a steep hill.  Thousands of windows- tens of thousands of people.  For at least 25 years, many of these people were cut off from access to the gospel.  But God was at work- and is working today in Berat.



While walking through the castle complex, Sonila (the MWB coordinator in Berat) shared some of the work that MWB is doing in Berat.  MWB works with the Berat Evangelical church and has been assisting them with a soup kitchen since 2007.  We visited the church that afternoon and I was able to witness a large room filled with the poor and elderly eating a healthy meal that MWB provided the funds for.  Volunteers from the church cook a meal 5 days a week on stoves and kitchen equipment provided by MWB.  Even the plates and glasses were provided by the mission.

“Soup kitchen”  is really a misnomer and doesn’t do justice to the healthy and delicious meal prepared at the church.  Soup, salad, rice, and bean soup was provided to each guest while we went into the sanctuary to learn more about the work.


There are 38 families enrolled in the Family sponsorship program in Berat.  20 of those families are now active members of this church.  Over 200 people came to Christmas services at the church which is a warehouse that has been converted into a sanctuary, dining hall, and kitchen.  Once a month, church members gathered at the Berat castle complex to fast and pray for the city.  



In September, those who were physically able participated in a 10 day Daniel fast (a partial fast) and intense prayer asking God to move in their midst.  What are the results?  Last September, 90 people gave their lives to Christ and were baptized.  Many of these were enrolled in the family sponsorship program.  God used donors, MWB coordinators, and local believers to share His love to the needy and people are coming to Christ in response.

“Because you have given, miracles have happened” Sonila said.  She was able to share many stories but I was able to SEE the miracles of transformed lives.  We visited several families in Berat who were enrolled in family sponsorship.  All greeted Sonila as a dear friend and shared stories of how God is providing and changing hearts.  One family had graduated from the sponsorship program and were now self sufficient.  The father has a job now and the mother works occasionally.  The yard was completely tilled and every square inch was covered with garden, fruit trees, and vines.  There was even a beehive out front!  The mother makes her own strawberry jam and the family is able to sell her produce, and  is now active in the church.  The mother and children now participate in the monthly prayer and fasting and assist with preparing aid packages for needy widows and working with children’s ministry.



One thing Sonila said stuck with me.  We are all pieces of a puzzle.  When all the pieces come together a beautiful picture is created.  Workers, churches, Mission Without Borders, and donors come together to do God’s work and something beautiful happens.  She emphasized the necessity of donors.  She said she loves each of the 28 families she is responsible for but there is no way she could care for them all without the support of donors who provide the needed funds and resources

“Because of you, miracles have happened.  The church in Berat has grown.  We are so thankful for you and to God for the donors.  You help us spiritually and economically”

Needless to say this was an emotional and memorable day.  I am so glad I was able to see what God is doing in Albania.




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