AD 2014 Team in Albania

Olivia & Catherine with Bilishti Church leader Petrika - and a donkey 'along for the ride.'

Team members Olivia & Catherine with Bilishti Church leader Petrika – and a donkey ‘along for the ride.’

Europe is a big place. It’s nearly 3,000 kilometers from Estonia to Albania. 33 hours in a car, according to Google.

Through a series of travel complications our team spent an unexpected night in Vienna, Austria and was ultimately rerouted through Greece on our way to Albania.

You drive through 17 tunnels from Thessaloniki, Greece to Bilisht, Albania. It’s a brand new road. Four lanes wide in places. Not a bump or a pothole in sight.

We were on the road for four hours. It’s Balkan landscape at its best: winding roads, grain fields, remote villages, shepherds herding their flocks, and the not so occasional donkey-driven cart.

Bilisht is the first Albanian outpost in the rolling hills. This city of about 12,000 people has been home to an Evangelical Church for 20 years. Communist rule left in 1992.

The church was our home base. Once the greeting party — of at least 50 — dissipated, our group settled into the upstairs rooms. Over the next eight days we shared the Gospel, gave our testimonies, sang worship songs, loved kids, and played some pretty good soccer. It may sound trivial in a list, but we learned immensely about God and about ourselves.

God moved so clearly.

He connected us powerfully in relationship with Albanian young adults. He moved in the hearts of nearly 50 people to make first-time salvation decisions! He taught us the power of sowing seeds, and of trusting Him with the outcome.

A critical part of this church’s story is young 20-somethings taking the mantle of leadership. The young adults of the church are world class emerging leaders. They’re smart, dynamic, courageous and incredibly committed to the Lord.

The church in Bilisht is in very capable hands.

Albania also provided the context to begin synthesizing our extremely diverse experiences. We’d just come from Ferrari-filled Geneva and were now walking the unpaved streets of rural villages. Many of which are still divided into Orthodox and Muslim quarters.

In the midst of cultural whiplash, we experienced a faith that united all of the locations we visited. More than that, it is a faith that unites believers across the continent. Our Albanian brothers and sisters are zealous for God. Just like those in Estonia, Switzerland and France.

That’s what Albania was about for me: Christ uniting His Church.

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