Young people from Sunnyside formed part of a team from Berkhamsted heading out to Tirana, the Albanian Capital, for a week during October half term. As part of Refract, the network of church based youthwork in Berko, we worked alongside an Albanian Baptist Church based in the city centre. We spent a week reaching out to local Albania young people within the local schools, serving the church we were based with by helping to run youth clubs and services, as well as sampling of the Albanian cultural highlights, notably the very tasty Baklava!
One of the most striking things about arriving in Albania is the incredible scenery that surrounds the airport, as you can see from the photo above! Following a stopover in Rome where we waited for 5 hours, managed to lose some hand luggage and sampled some Italian pizza, we arrived in Albania on the Saturday night. The following morning we joined our host church for worship in their normal Sunday service, with some of our young people sharing testimonies of how they came to faith and Adrian (our team leader) preaching. The afternoon was spent exploring the city and getting used to our surroundings, as well as getting to know one another better.
The following days were spent partnering with the Albanians in street-based outreach to local Albanian young people as we invited them to chat about issues of faith and to come along to a youth club we were hosting. Although chatting to young people outside their schools was slightly intimidating at times, we were hugely encouraged later in the day when many turned up for youth club at the church! Throughout the week we ran three youth club type events before finishing with an evangelistic youth service on our final day, and each time it felt as if friendships were being formed with local Albanian youngsters. On Tuesday we spent some time preparing sandwiches before heading out into the city centre to feed the homeless and poor of Tirana. This was quite challenging but hugely rewarding. It was repeatedly pointed out that this simple act of kindness could be easily repeated at home with a simple trip to London.
On Wednesday we took a journey into the mountains to visit Kruje, the site of a ruined castle and museum on Albanian history. The scenery was stunning as you can see from the photos! We took some time to pray and worship at the top of the mountain before heading into the extensive market where we were able to snap up a few bargains from the most ‘touristy’ part of Albania, even though it seemed quite quiet! The evening was spent sharing testimonies and stories with the men’s and women’s groups of the church. It was so encouraging for us that although we were from different backgrounds, traditions, ages and even nationalities we could still share joy at the work that God is doing in us!
Thursday was spent visiting an international school to lead students in an assembly as well as assisting with PE lessons – some of the team needed a reminder that although winning is important in football, we ought to let the children win really! Perhaps the highlight of the trip came in the evening when the team was split into smaller groups to go and have dinner in some Albanian homes. The chance to experience ‘real life’ and be welcomed into the homes of the church members was memorable, as was the learning of some traditional Albanian dancing for one group of girls! On Friday we ran another youth club drop in and continued to build our friendships with the Albanian young people. In the afternoon the girls headed off to visit a church member fashion studio as she is a leading designer across Europe. Meanwhile the boys were planning tactics for the upcoming football match with the men’s group. The final score? England 3 Albania 1!
The last day started bright and early with a children’s bible club followed by a youth service. We were delighted when a group of Albanian girls chose to respond to the gospel message shared at the meeting! It was so encouraging to play a small but significant role in someone’s faith journey, and the relationships continue to develop over social media now that we’re back home. We packed up and headed off to the airport to fly home with happy hearts but tired bodies!
All in all the trip was a great success! Since returning we have all spoken of the lasting impression that the Albanian people left on us. Their passion for Jesus, amazing hospitality and incredible joy were all deeply moving. It was a week for getting outside of comfort zones, making new friends and growing in faith. We hope to return again soon!