Albania was the first atheistic country in the world. From 1967 until 1990, religion was illegal. But after the collapse of communism, the people of Albania started to hear there was a God and were open to learning more. I began investigating different religious groups and started attending a mosque with friends. But during university, I ran into difficulties.
I drank a lot of alcohol, smoked almost 60 cigarettes a day, and was very depressed. I had a broken relationship with my parents and wanted to get away. I planned to go to Germany and get involved with a friend’s drug trafficking network. But another friend approached me one day and said he knew someone who could help me. I asked who this person was, and he answered, “his name is Jesus Christ,” and gave me a copy of the New Testament. I wanted to throw it away, but something inside me said not to.
When I got home, I randomly opened it and read my first Bible verse, Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” That was the key to opening my heart.
I was shocked to learn that God was speaking to me, a broken young man in Tirana. I fell to my knees and started to cry because I felt that the Lord heard me and spoke to me. It was the most amazing thing that ever happened in my life! I was shocked to learn that God was speaking to me, a broken young man in Tirana. I fell to my knees and started to cry because I felt that the Lord heard me and spoke to me. Click To Tweet
Walking in Faith
The same friend who told me about Jesus invited me to church. I declined because I was so accustomed to attending mosque—that was my tradition and my family. But they asked me to come just once, so I did and never turned back.
The church was completely different than what I assumed. The people were loving and enjoyed being together. It was a wonderful place. After attending for some time, I met my wife, Vilma, who was leading worship at the time, and we now have four wonderful boys.
We served at this local church for 13 years. In the most challenging times of ministry, I was drawn to some articles online by Dave Kraft about new church leaders and planting healthy churches. Taking a step of faith, I emailed him about our hope of planting a new church in Albania. We knew we needed gospel-centered theological training. He quickly responded by asking, “have you heard about Acts 29?” He arranged a meeting with the European director, Philip Moore, who proposed we start the assessment process.
Finding Balance and Understanding
Instead of running headfirst into ministry work, we learned how to rest in God. Acts 29 wasn’t just interested in our church-planting work, but our family, the health of our marriage, and our relationships. They wanted us to find a healthy balance between family and ministry, which was a new concept for me.
We also had access to other church planters and many conversations on gospel centrality, leading to a better understanding of church planting. We received so much coaching and training. We found help for all of our difficult questions. It’s probably one of the best things we’ve experienced.
As a church, we’ve built partnerships with Acts 29 in Turkey and Italy. We’ve recently started a Church in Hard Places cohort focused on supporting isolated pastors.
Watching God Move
We’re in a nominal, traditional Muslim neighborhood. But we’ve gained the sympathy of many people. There’s a new hope, and we see change happening. My wife and I believe every neighborhood, every little town and village in Albania, needs a gospel-centered church.
We desire to follow God’s command to make disciples who are mature in the faith, and in turn, make more disciples. Right now, we have about 30–40 people in our Sunday gatherings and are at a critical point in moving into deeper discipleship. Brothers and sisters, this isn’t my story. It’s God’s story. I’m just a vessel in the hands of the Lord, with a vision and a dream given by God. Click To Tweet
Brothers and sisters, this isn’t my story. It’s God’s story. I’m just a vessel in the hands of the Lord, with a vision and a dream given by God to see many more healthy leaders raised and healthy churches planted in Tirana, in Albania, and beyond.