I'm back from our partnership visit to Albania now and more than anything, I'm conscious I need to understand a whole lot more, before we can be of any real use.
However, the one thing staring me in the face is the huge danger of exporting models of Christian community from elsewhere. Alarm bells were ringing in my ears almost everywhere I went.
In 1967, the government, declared it had eliminated all religion from the country and proclaimed itself the first atheist state in the world. All the remaining 2000 religious buildings were closed. This followed on from Albania becoming a Communist state in 1944 under Enver Hoxha, who remained in power until his death in 1985. The right to practice religion was restored in late 1990. Interestingly, Paul the Apostle was in Albania, so the light of the gospel was lit 2000 years ago.
Today, 24 years after Christian missionaries were allowed in, there are 160+ evangelical churches in the country, with the number of 'Protestants' around 8000. In this context, protestant and evangelical appear to be one and the same. Almost all appear to be members of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance
The official 2011 census figures states:
Prefer not to answer 13.79%
Believers without denomination 5.49%
Not relevant/not stated 2.43%
The population, as a whole, numbers nearly 3 million.
The size of the Baptist congregations we met the leaders of number around 350. There are 9 churches who form the relatively new Albanian Baptist Union. Most of the churches, whatever their network, or denomination, are fairly small.
It's dangerous to be glib and I find being judgmental is a sin I can easily adopt, so I'm conscious I need to tread warily. However, there does appear to be a need (and something I heard from Albanian nationals) for the multiple mission agencies involved, to take a step back, to at least review their strategies. I recall Michael Griffiths, one time leader for OMF talking about how mission agencies can become parasites, feeding off the church and I just wonder what percentage of resources still being poured into Albania remains a blessing for the national churches?
Obviously, by entering into partnership, WEBA could be part of the problem, or part of the solution, which is a dilemma and responsibility we are keenly aware of. I ask for your prayers, so we might know wisdom, faith and courage in all our plans.