We have finished the English camp, visited Macedonia, and seen Tirana. Today is our last full day in the beautiful country of Albania. It is amazing how quickly the time has passed. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were taking goofy selfies on the van ride to O'Hare. The team worked hard and fast to pull off a successful English camp. This would have never happened if God was not actively answering our prayers by bringing many new students to the camps and allowing us to build relationships and share the gospel despite a language and culture barrier. Because of enormity of the week, we want you all to hear some highlights of our time in Albania from each member of the team.
It has been such a joy to be back in Albania for the third time now, but this time in a new city! I loved making relationships with many guys in the camp, especially the ones in my small group. Every night after the gospel message each group would gather at one of the local coffee shops to discuss the passage and talk about this man named Jesus. Our group contained an intersting mix of newcomers and members of the Albanian youth group. This gave us opportunities to not only proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, but to encourage the believers in doing the very same thing. On Thursday night, while talking to one specific student about his Muslim faith, the conversation between this student and the other Albanian students took off such that it was impossible for our translators to keep us constantly updated on what was being said. We were able to watch a direct connection form between this Muslim student and the young members of Kisha Unjillore (the Korce church) which was a major goal of our mission. At this point, prayer is needed for people like this Muslim student who have now heard the gospel and have yet to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.
There was a lot of highlights that I have from this camp, but so many of them stem from getting a chance to talk to the kids. This included just getting to talk to them about their beliefs and having chances to talk to them about what faith in Jesus is all about. There were a couple people in my small group who were very open to talking about and hearing the Gospel from me, or from the youth pastor, Klodi, who was such a help in adding things to and taking conversations to a whole new level with the kids. Albania is a beautiful country, and it's been really exciting to see so many beautiful places, as well as the beautiful things the Lord is doing in this country through His church. So much prayer is still needed, but so much fruit is already so evident.
Perhaps the biggest highlight for me was getting to know the guys and girls in my small group. Each night, after we went our separate ways for lunch, we would gather together back at the church for games, songs, and a message. After, we would grab coffee with a small group and discuss what we learned. It was during these times that I really got to know the students. Some came from Muslim backgrounds, some from Orthodox backgrounds, and others from no religious background at all. The greatest joy was for me to share the gospel and the call to follow Jesus with them. I will continue to pray for God to work in their lives to convict them of sin, to open their eyes to see the great love God has shown them in Christ, and for them to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ.
I most enjoyed the activities with the students that allowed for extended conversation. On Tuesday, we hiked up to the top of a mountain and along the way I was able to chat with one of the newcomers. He comes from an Orthodox background, but recently has become interested in the Evangelical Church. He has observed that the Orthodox tradition "forces people to do what they don't want to do" and that "their actions are not from the heart." This student and I were able to discuss the difference in what each church believes about Jesus. That contrast is what allowed me to share the gospel clearly and directly with him. Throughout the week, other team members were able to follow up with this student as well. Our hope and prayer is that this student would know the joy of the Lord by realizing his desperate situation and then recognizing and believing in Jesus as his Savior. Please continue to pray, as there were many students like him that were also considering this truth for the first time.
One of the things that stood out the most to me is the openness and eagerness of the students. Many of the kids who came to camp didn't have a church background and as a result the gospel was entirely new and exciting for them. I remember watching one of the guys from my small group sitting on the edge of his seat listening carefully to the sermon, trying to soak in everything that was said. This excitement also translated into small groups -- for the most part everyone was willing to participate. Please be praying for the seeds that were planted in these hearts to be fruitful and that we would hear about these students continuing to come to church and coming to a saving knowledge of the truth.
I was so encouraged this week by the youth in Korce and by the staff, including Klodi and Lysi (Lucy). Their love for one another and their graciousness to us was an example to me as I reached out to the kids that came to camp last week, especially when I tried witness to kids who were reserved and didn't speak English. Often I would come to these situations asking, "what can I possibly do in here to proclaiim Christ to this person?" But the Lord showed me how simply we can communicate love. Just sharing ice cream and a few pictures of family or jumping off the diving board with them really made a difference to these kids. It was a joy to see them show up at youth group on Saturday night when a week before they had been total strangers. God's love is powerful and He is at work in Korce!
Thank you all for your prayers and support! God has definitely used this last week to build lasting relationships and spread his gospel. Please continue to pray for Kisha Ungjillore and the work that the youth group is doing in Korce.
We love you all and can't wait to be back with you at Grace Church of DuPage!