Growing the Church in Albania
When you are working in a country where close to a third of its citizens spied on each other during the reign of communism, trust is a major barrier to building a faith community. Mark Stoscher (M.A., 2000), part of the first evangelical outreach to Erseka, Albania, during a summer mission trip in 1993, felt called to return to Erseka and work with the new believers there.
"When we were there in 1993, nobody knew what a Bible was. The communism was so severe. Seven years later young people know their Bibles better than I do," Mark says, speaking of the transformation he's seen in Erseka.
Albania's communist history left the church almost completely decimated in Albania. In Korcha, just north of Erseka, a church of more than 100 evangelical Christians before World War II had dwindled to five elderly men who met secretly during the communist regime. After the fall of communism in 1991, the church grew from these five men into more than 200 and the first evangelical outreach to Erseka came from this church.
The Erseka church is part of a church movement that now totals more than 700 members in seven churches. From the beginning, Stoscher has witnessed and been a part of this exciting and dynamic growth. As the world directed its attention to this corner of the globe during the Kosovo crisis, the church purchased a warehouse to house refugees, providing care to more than 1,000 individuals.
The refugees have returned home, but the church has continued its outreach to these neighbors, helping to rebuild homes and counsel widows. Further, the church has continued to use the facility to begin a camping program and ministry. Next summer they hope to bring some of their Kosovar neighbors to camp, as well.
The Erseka church founded a publishing house that translates and prints up to 10 books a year in Albanian. In addition to the publishing house, the church started a studio to release and sponsor more and more Christian music of all types into the market. The church is also starting an orphanage.
"The idea is to see it as a small family-style orphanage rather than an institution," Stoscher says. "We are not out to get hundreds of kids, but rather see a handful incorporated into our church, and build a community around them."
Stoscher's overarching vision is to empower Albanian leaders in the church. Stoscher works with a leadership team in his church, giving them exposure to preaching and other aspects of ministry. Stoscher will also be part of a vision trip with seven Albanian pastors to Israel, Rome, and Austria.
"I think we have been incredibly blessed with our church and the movement of the church we work with to have Albanians that will take things on, and men and women of integrity and vision who want to see those things happen," Stoscher says. "We can start things rolling to some degree as Westerners, but the vision needs to be from God to them."