About a year ago, a 6.4 earthquake shook our city of Durres, Albania, and altered the lives of people living there. Then, several months later, just as residents of our city were seeking to rebuild or repair their houses, COVID restrictions started. Life screeched to a halt, and all construction was put on hold. Thankfully, life in our city is slowly returning to normalcy again, which has greatly affected two families connected to our church. We are thankful to see ways God is at work amidst the rubble, leaving both lives and buildings altered.
Thomas’* family is one we met because of the earthquakes. After over a ten-month wait, Thomas and his wife, Sharon*, have finally had discussions with government overseers and inspectors this fall to seek approval to repair their home. During the months following the earthquake until now, their family has been renting while awaiting permission for repairs. On behalf of the Wesleyan Foundation of Albania (WFA), our missionary team had been able to assist with some purchases like food, blankets and a heater in the early days after the earthquake. We also found that a Bible was readily accepted.
The physical foundation of Thomas and Sharon’s house was already intact, and now their spiritual one has started to change significantly. My husband, Matt, met with Thomas several times over coffee. One day, Matt learned that Thomas had not only wanted a Bible but was interested in meeting to discuss it with our family.
After COVID restrictions lifted, we started a Bible study series with their family. The Bible study is designed for people just like Thomas and Sharon coming from a folk Muslim background, beginning with creation and leading up to Christ’s resurrection.
From the beginning, Thomas’ enthusiasm encouraged us. He has read from the Bible apart from meetings. He has also gathered all his family members, even visiting ones, to be a part of the Discovery Bible Study. The study has impacted not only Thomas and Sharon, but also their three sons and daughter, a son’s fiancé, Thomas’ sister and Sharon’s mother at various times. As a part of the Bible study, we always discuss an action point regarding how to apply what we learn. Thomas and Sharon have remembered their “assignments” to live out what they learned and have looked for ways to do just that.
While no one in our city wanted to experience a major earthquake and its many aftershocks, if there had been no earthquake, we wonder whether we ever would have met Thomas’ family, or if they would have been open to reading God’s Word together.
As Thomas’ family had their temporary housing paid for by the government, another family with teen girls from our church relocated to another town to stay with extended family. Unlike with Thomas’ family, damage to the physical foundation of their house made their home unfit to live in, but the girls in the family had a good spiritual foundation. Their presence was missed in our small church, and our family personally missed these girls who have been such a part of our lives. As the start of school approached this fall, our church offered part of our building as a temporary home for some of the family. We celebrated these girls’ homecoming to Durres and our church this fall.
All three sisters had been a vital part of our church, so it seemed natural that our church could be a physical shelter for them as well. The oldest daughter, Christina*, came to know the Lord, was baptized and then helped lead worship at the church and assisted in children’s ministries. The second oldest, Kara*, surrendered her life to the Lord and was baptized. Then, she led Bible studies and children’s classes for our church and wrote many beautiful Christian poems. Christina and Kara had also been a part of a worship group with our son and daughter that had composed and written songs for the church.
The youngest of the sisters, Charity*, had been known as being more “spirited” and less serious than her sisters. However, she, too, had attended many church and children’s ministries, had come to know the Lord and expressed a desire to be baptized. She also has helped lead children’s ministries when needed. While young, these girls had made a difference in their neighborhood and for the kingdom of God even though they were from a nominally Muslim family.
Since their return this fall, these three girls have been a big help with ministry, cleaning and helping with youth ministry. Attendance has jumped in all meetings as they have encouraged friends to return to meetings. Monies have been donated to pay for repairs on the girls’ home; repairs have been approved and have begun.
The words of one of the songs Kara has written for our church seem especially appropriate in this situation, “What is this love that came down and covered everyone with love? He was Jesus Christ who saved our lives.” Our prayer for these families also echoes the thoughts of Kara expressed later in that same song, “I feel I have an obligation with what I can do to obey him.”
We pray for both families to know God’s love in deeper ways as they overcome these difficulties and to desire to follow and serve God in even greater ways.
*Names changed for security reasons
Caryl Aukerman serves with Global Partners in Durres, Albania.