Albania 2016

Zefjan Nicolla

Zefjan Nicolla

I have recently been to Albania once again. The trip went well, with much to encourage me. This time I was accompanied by a friend, Dewi Tudur, who is a pastor in Talsarnau, and it was great to have someone to share in the experience. We flew on Tuesday from Manchester via Istanbul to Tirana, where we were met by my contact, Zefjan Nicolla.

Zef (pictured) is the General Secretary of BSKSH (the IFES movement in Albania), and is one of those people who seems to have a plethora of contacts. Alongside his work with students he is one of the teaching elders in Imanuel Church in Tirana, but also is involved in many initiatives to spread the Gospel in Albania. He drove us to the Stephen Center – a hotel in Tirana run by Christians, where many missionaries stay when visiting the city.

On Wednesday morning following a leisurely breakfast Zef took us for a walk through the city. It is interesting to note how things have moved on since my previous visits. This is the fourth time for me here, and although the world has been in financial crisis, the infrastructure here seems to be improving. Zef tells us that this is in part due to the previous government spending much, and thus creating an enormous national debt. The new government which came in almost three years ago is trying to be more responsible, so much work seems to have come to a stop with some roads being half built. All this of course is new to Dewi who hasn’t been here before.

Zef then put us on a public minibus to be driven to Elbasan. This is a large industrial city in central Albania. During the time of the Communists it was the industrial hub of the country, but now many of the factories have closed down. The city is in a traditionally Muslim part of the country, and the churches here face a difficult task. I was to speak on two consecutive evenings in a mission to students in the university there. I spoke at a similar mission here three years ago and recognised a number of faces. The meetings were attended by about 40 people on both evenings. Of these about a dozen were Christians, and all the other were from either Atheist or Muslim backgrounds – many of them nominal Muslims. The first evening I spoke (via translator) on the subject: “If God exists, why is he so distant?” and the students listened attentively. The meetings were held in a church, close to the university, and following the talk the students had food outside and played volleyball and other games as they chatted. We also had an opportunity to chat to a number of them, before Zef arrived to take us back to Tirana for the night.

The following day we had been invited for a meal with one of the young families in Elbasan. People here love to be hospitable, and although they do not have much, their gratitude that we went to their home was lovely. My subject for the second talk was “The good, the bad and the ugly – how do we know what’s right and wrong?” Beginning with how can we have a basis for morality and absolute truth, I then moved on to speak of how Christ deals with the evil that is in us. Again those who had come listened intently. One trio who came in response to the flyers were an Atheist, a nominal Muslim, and a practising Muslim. This last one was listening intently, at times nodding in agreement, and at other times shaking his head in response to my message. Those present said that these usually come into the meetings to disrupt and proclaim their own message, but this man listened respectfully and a number were discussing the message afterwards with him. Please pray for Altin, who leads the work in Elbasan. He works for BSKSH, but also leads the church here. He was very encouraged by the meetings, and was grateful for a gift which Dewi brought from a group of Christian ladies which covered much of the cost of the mission.

During the week we also saw some of the other ways in which the church is reaching out with the Gospel. On Thursday morning we went to the offices of the Bible Society in Tirana. Altin Husi, the General Secretary, who is also a fellow elder at Imanuel Church with Zef, welcomed us. The major project which they are working on is providing a new translation of the Bible in Albanian. The old translations were based on Latin texts, and a new reliable translation is a great need there. Zef was one of the three translators of the New Testament which has been out for some years. Now the Old Testament is nearing completion. Part of the problem has been that most of those involved in the work do not live in Albania, so coordinating the work has meant much travel. Hopefully the whole Bible will be published in two years’ time.

On Friday we met Zef for an English class which he runs from the church. We were asked to provide an opportunity for conversation for this group of eight or nine young people. English is a passport to opportunity for them, and this is one way in which the church makes new contacts. Zef also runs a book club, discussing secular novels and bringing a Christian viewpoint into the conversation. He also has a monthly Bible study with a number of high-ranking police officers in Tirana.

On Saturday Dewi went with Zef to a poor part of the city where a group of Christians were holding football trials. Those who were successfully selected would be enrolled in a “football academy” where they would learn football skills, but also life skills, where the gospel would be presented to them. The criterion was that they came from a poor background, and that they showed promise in football. Over 70 turned up, many with their parents who were engaged in conversation. Then Dewi and Zef picked me up and we went to Durres, another ancient city not far from Tirana. Here there is an ancient arena, where according to tradition Titus was martyred. Before seeing the ruins we met Lluka, a man who is working with the Children’s Evangelisation Fellowship. His supervisor from Romania was with him, and we saw the resources that they are providing for teaching the Bible to children.

On Sunday the rain came, together with thunder which lasted most of the day. I preached in Imanuel church in the morning, with Zef translating. Although a number of the people were away, it was good to meet up with many I had seen before. I preached a message from Ecclesastes Chapter 3. Then we took Zef, his wife Edita, and their two daughters Greis and Emili, out for a meal.

The Vaqarr Church

The Vaqarr Church

Then late in the afternoon we were picked up by Zef and Altin and went to Vaqarr, a Muslim village on the outskirts of Tirana. Imanuel church have been coming here for some years to have an afternoon Bible study. They began by visiting the village and playing football with some young people. Then they suggested meeting before the game to look at the Bible. This has developed into a little church which meets in a local sports centre. I preached the same message as in the morning, and during the message I mentioned praying for Albania in the early 1970s. As I was saying this one man (in the centre of the photo) was smiling with his eyes lighting up. He got up at the end and thanked us for praying for Albania those many years ago. He was the first in the village to confess openly that he had become a Christian, and it had obviously cost him much in his reputation among his family and community!

So our time came to an end, and early on Monday morning we left for the airport, returning with more memories of how God confuses the plans of men. The need is great, but the door is open to preach the gospel.

On to Košice

It was good to see Heledd (my daughter) waiting for me on the platform when I arrived after a three and a half hour journey from Budapest. We went on the local transport to the flat where she has lived since she moved here four and a half years ago. No meetings had been arranged for the first two days here, so it was a good time to relax, talk and get some preparation done. The weather has not been kind to me on this trip, with much rain. So we did not go to see the mountains, but it was good to have time together.

On Wednesday two meetings were planned. Firstly, the team were gathering for their weekly meeting to share and pray. Martin, Tom and Sam came to Heledd’s flat, and Beata who is in Nitra joined us via Skype. Baska, the other team member is on leave this week so she did not join us. Martin, the General Secretary and team leader, lives close by with his wife and children. Tom is from Sunderland, and is on his second year here. Sam, having studied at Aberystwyth Uni, and then done Relay is on his first year.

It was an encouraging time as they shared what was happening. The previous night in Prešov, the students had a good time as they looked at “Uncover”, the Bible studies used by UCCF, and translated into Slovak. They had about twenty students there, who split up into three groups. The international students were studying in English with Tom; then there was a group of Ukrainian students who were studying in Russian, and of course, the Slovak group. It is really encouraging considering that when Heledd arrived in the country there was no group in Prešov University. They also discussed future plans, including some meetings next week when the team will be going to Nitra to work with Beata.

We had a time of prayer together and then I shared a word from Ecclesiastes 3. This is a time of change for the team. Martin will probably be finishing as the General Secretary this summer. Heledd, Sam and probably Tom as well will be leaving also. So it seemed appropriate to remember that the Time Lord is in charge. Whatever lies in the future will be in His hands. I’ve also been given a new name by Tom and Sam – for those of you who are on twitter you may notice #papaHeledd appearing a few times!

In the evening the students at the university had arranged a mmeting where I was asked to speak on the subject “Where is God when bad things happen?” They had been sharing invitations, and had cme with pancakes filled with nuttella for the meeting. (Bang goes my diet once again!) I spoke for about 40 minutes via a translator, and then we had the students to write further questions and pass them forward to us so that I could have a session of questions and answers. The meeting seemed to go well, with an intense discussion at the end.

Heledd was encouraged because there were a number there who have not come before. Also as we were not able to answer all the questions that had been passed on, there is scope for future meetings and continued conversations with the students.

Today I caught an early train back to Budapest, and am currently at the airport, using the time to update the news on my visit here. A time of blessing in both Budapest and Košice. But now PapaHeledd is coming home!


Ungarn, Budapest, Burghügel und Burg. Stadtansicht

My visit to Budapest came following an invitation from Lazslo a local pastor. We had met at the European Leadership Forum last year, and as a consequence he was anxious that I could meet up with some people who are trying to reach out to the Gay community in Budapest.

Last Friday I was met at the airport by Lazslo, and in the evening was taken to meet Andraš – one of the leaders of the Christians for Gays group. Andras then took me to a lcal restaurant, where we met with two others: Valentin, who is also a member of this group, and J, who is an active Lesbian, and believes that following Jesus does not meen that she has to turn her back on the active same sex lifestyle. She seemed to have much trauma in her background, and very much on her guard at the beginning of our conversation. We had a pretty intense couple of hours of conversation, which I pray will help her as she works out what it means to follow Jesus.

I was staying with Andras and his family for the first two nights. They are a lovely couple, with one son and are looking fr ways to serve the Lord. vicky, his wife, works in a foundation set up by Laszlo’s church to help those who escape from human trafficking.

On Saturday, after a morning of sightseeing in pouring rain, I worked innthe afternoon, preparing for a meeting in the evening. This was an open meeting where I was to speak on the subject: “Is God anti-gay?”  This meeting was in downtown Budapest, at the top of a building covered in graffiti. Outside our room was a bar, and the place was obviously frequented by many of the young in the city. I was told that they did not know who would come – maybe no-one, or maybe there would be many. The meeting had been advertised on Facebook, and many of the local LGBT groups had been contacted. So we were all a bit aprehensive. As it was about 20 people were there, and they were a mixture of Christians who were supportive and others who were obviously coming from a different perspective.

I spoke for about 45 minutes via a translator, and then we had an open session of questions and answers and debate. My focus was on how we view our own identity. I used the story of Jesus meeting the woman by the well in John 4 to show how he led her to look for a deeper relationship through him to satisfy her longings. Things seemed to go well, and Andras was grateful that the evening was peaceful, with everybody repsectful of each other. Lazslo said that he felt the meeting had been significant in many ways. Firstly it was the first time they had tried anything like this, and it was a great boost to their confidence. Secondly, the fact that peole had felt safe to question openly and debate with open hearts and minds meant that there was something t build on in these people’s lives. Thirdly, he felt that bridges were being built which would be fruitful in time to come.

On Sunday morning I was speaking in Lazso’s church – a five year old church plant which they call Golgota. Here was a group of people of various ages, but a significant portion were young families. We began wirh five hymns/songs led by a worship group. I recognised a couple of the songs as translations from the English, but others were Hungarian hymns, both traditinal and new. I must admit that I struggled with linking the pronounciatiin with the words up on the screen! Hungarian does seem a difficult language!

The children then went out and I spoke (again via a translator) to the issue of how the church can be clear on our understanding of what the Bible teaches about sexual relationships, and also open and welcoming towards those who are different. I looked at the story of Jesus in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and asked them whether we often give the message of the pharisees to those outside. People listened intently, and at the end many seemed to be affected by the message. Many came to seek help and advice afterwards. Many families had been affected by this issue. I had applied the message very much in terms of the homosexual issue, but some also saw how they could apply my teaching to other relationships. There were many tears shed, and Lazlo was encouraged that God was at work in many hearts.

The rest of the day was spent with Lazslo, his wife Kerry and their four children. An intended meeting for church leaders for the afternoon could not be arranged because of Sunday commitments. So the following morning I was up early to catch the 6.30 train to Košice to spend some days with Heledd, my daughter.

European Leadership Forum 5

Michael Oh, Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement

Michael Oh, Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement

The last full day at the Forum arrived and breakfast time I was mentoring two workers from a church in Budapest. They were facing problems originating in the legacy left by the previous pastor. So often we are not good in preparing for our successors. We got so involved in our discussion that we were late arriving in our final Bible Reading. We were just in time to hear Ajith Fernando giving his final address, this time looking at Nehemia Chapter 5. Continue reading

European Leadership Forum 4

Singing together at the Forum

Singing together at the Forum

Tuesday began with a deliberate decision to try to relax a bit more. My room mate gets up at 4.30, so I’m up at 5.00 myself. It gives me time to read and write. Then breakfast time I was mentoring once more. This time I met with a young pastor form Kiev yn the Ukraine. Alrhough we hear of terrible things happening in the east of the country, things are relatively peaceful in the capital. Continue reading

European Leadership Forum 3

Ajith Fernando who is leading the Bible Readings

Ajith Fernando who is leading the Bible Readings

Monday was the busiest day so far for me. It began at breakfast time with a mentoring session. I spent time with a lady who, with her husband, have been leading a church in the Netherlands. They need to retire, butbthe church does not seem able to let go of them. This is where the principle of the ministry of the whole church is so important. Continue reading

European Leadership Forum 2


Sunday dawned as a bright day, and early before breakfast I climbed the steep hill behind our hotel and enjoyed overlooking the valley with it’s forests and hearing the birds sing. Then at 7.00 I met with a pastor from Bulgaria over breakfast for a mentoring session. Following this we all gathered to worship God together. The sound of “Bless the Lord, O my soul” ringing through the plenary hall was inspiring. Continue reading

European Leadership Forum 2015

This week I am privileged to be at the European Leadership Forum (ELF), which is this yrar happening in Wisla, Poland. I’ve been coming for a number of years, and find it to be one of the most encouraging events of the year. Around 750 participants from all over Europe and beyond come for teaching, fellowship, encouragement and planning. Continue reading

Final Day

The last day of the Forum arrived. Today I was free of mentoring, so meal times were opportunities for less intense chatting with friends. There were Jonathan Stephen and Joel Morris from WEST, the evangelical college at Bridgend. Then there was a young pastor from Hungary, whose wife had really been helped last year in a workshop I led. Then there was Ellis Potter, who is a lovely man from America originally, but has been in Europe for years. Continue reading