Tag Archive for: Albania

Back to square A (Albania)

Luke and I moved to Russia in 1997 right after he finished seminary. We arrived in Novosibirsk with next to nothing. . . no cultural knowledge, language skills, children, ministry experience, or possessions. Gradually over the next 25 years, God gave us all those blessings and more. Russia became our home, the place where we felt comfortable, the place where we raised our three children. We knew where to fix the transmission, how to file taxes, which plumber to call, what to substitute for cream soup, and where to get stitches. We had one adventure after another at church, school, and home, and each adventure gave us new knowledge, appreciation, and experience.

Now we are living in Durres, Albania. . . and it feels like déjà vu!

Once again, we are the new guys, sorely lacking in cultural knowledge and language skills. We don’t know much about how ministry works in Albania. We are empty nesters. It’s like we’re newlyweds again!

We’ve spent a grand total of 87 days in Albania. That isn’t much, but we are having adventures and learning.

Albanians are hospitable and friendly. Pastor Nikola Bishka (Niko) and his family found us a lovely apartment to live in and let us borrow things we needed. They are always happy to help. (We especially appreciate their old espresso machine!) Church members have welcomed us warmly.

Albanians don’t want to tell you “No.” I learned this the hard way. Don’t keep waiting around if someone says they’ll do it “in 20 minutes.”

You can buy eggs one at a time. And there’s always a lady selling live chickens just down the block. (Should I surprise Luke some day?)

Locals advise me to look for goods imported from Italy. That is the signal for quality. My new favorite butter comes from Italy. And coffee. And small appliances. And laundry soap. And wine.

Don’t buy bread or baked goods at the grocery store. A nearby bakery will offer fresher goods and cheaper deliciousness.

In Durres, directions are given much like in rural Nebraska: by landmark. We don’t even have a street address. We’re in the apartment building by the pub, “Bar ZaZa.” Taxi drivers and pizza delivery guys know exactly where we are.

Don’t eat olives off the tree. They don’t taste good. Fresh olives must be brined for at least two weeks before eating. My favorite olive merchant is also an excellent, patient man to practice language with. So I buy a lot of olives!

You can keep your washing machine outside on the balcony. (This isn’t Novosibirsk!) I don’t think they are worried about freezing pipes in Durres.

Our apartment is on the 10th floor, and we have a beautiful view overlooking the Port of Durres on the Adriatic Sea. The deep turquoise of the sea at noon becomes a lovely light blue at sunset.

Sunset is the perfect time to wind down and take a walk. The sun is not so hot, the water is beautiful, and the ice cream vendors are still out in full force.

Though I can’t understand most of the words at church, I can see the fruits of faith. I see that the people are happy to gather for worship. They care about each other. They love their pastors. They sing praises with gusto. They are patient and loving with us.

Right now, we are in the U.S. for some family time, classes, and meetings. God-willing we’ll head back to Albania soon. We’re looking forward to learning more about life and work in Albania with new adventures!

Written by Jennifer Wolfgramm, wife of World Missionary Luke Wolfgramm.

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Faces of Faith – Niko

Meet the newest European pastor! Nikolla (Niko), pictured center, is the oldest son of Pastor Mikel and Pavlena Bishka. He lives with his parents and younger brother, Viktor, in Durres, Albania, an ancient city on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, right across from Italy’s heel.

Niko completed his seminary studies in January 2019 and serves the Durres congregation together with his father, where 90 people regularly attend weekly worship services. Pastor Agron Mece (pictured left) and Mikel (pictured right) are both nearing retirement. They thank God for providing a pastor for the next generation and are recruiting other young men in their congregations to study for ministry.

The three pastors are working together to host the European Regional CELC Convention in May 2019. The convention gives the pastors across Europe a chance to see the work going on in Albania and to encourage our Albanian brothers and sisters as they carry the gospel to the three million people of their country.

From Luke Wolfgramm, WELS pastor in Russia

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Sharing the Precious Message in Albania

I have a feeling we’re not in Novosibirsk anymore . . .

“You have palm trees!”

It’s such a touristy thing to say, but I can’t help it. We don’t have palm trees in Novosibirsk, Russia. I’ve just landed at the airport in Tirana, Albania. (Albania lies on the Mediterranean Sea, directly east of Italy’s heel.) Seminarian Nikolla Bishka is picking me up in his Ford Focus for the thirty minute drive to his hometown of Durres.

Albanian Pastors (L to R) – Niko, Agron, and Mikel

For the next two weeks “Niko” and I will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians and talk about what it means to serve as a pastor. I’m excited for the new challenge. For the past twenty-one years I have served as a missionary in Siberia. Now I have been asked to do some traveling in order to mentor pastors and seminary students in Russia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Niko is twenty-six years old, quiet, but friendly. He lives with his parents, Pastor Mikel and Pavlena, and his younger brother Viktor. As we drive along the country’s main highway, Niko tells me how things have changed. The old dictator is gone. Life is better . . . but wages are low and prices are high. Gasoline costs $6.25 a gallon! Students are protesting peacefully in the streets of Tirana demanding improved living conditions. Many people are leaving the country to search for work in Italy or Germany. Religion is allowed. There was a time when all religion was banned. In the 1960s, Christians were imprisoned and even executed for their faith. Now about seventy percent of the population claim to be Muslim, and the rest are nominally Christian. Most of Albanian’s three million souls live in spiritual darkness.

Downtown Durres

Niko drops me off at my hotel which he carefully chose for its low price and beautiful view overlooking the ruins of an ancient Roman theater. We agree to start our studies the next day at the congregation’s rented facilities. I’m grateful for the chance to rest! The trip from Novosibirsk to Tirana takes a full day – three flights, six time zones, and nine hours in the air.

The Durres church is a storefront located right on the city’s main road. Immediately upon entrance, neatly labeled photographs of church members greet me. Niko points out his picture. Then he points out a picture of the congregation’s first pastor, Missionary Richard Russow, with the church’s founding members (2006). The church is decorated for Advent and Christmas.

Mikel (left) and Niko (right) leading worship

With a prayer for God’s blessing, Niko and I dive into our study of Galatians. What a joy! No wonder Martin Luther called this little book his “Katherine von Bora.” Luther loved this letter for its clear comfort: God has saved us by His mercy. There is nothing, NOTHING, we need to add to Christ’s perfect work of rescuing us for life. This freedom lets us love God and people with all our hearts. The people of Albania need to hear this precious message! Something else strikes us as we read Paul’s letter: the apostle dearly loved the people he served. He writes with such emotion as he urges his people to believe God’s truth and to reject Satan’s lies.

May God give Niko and all of us that same love for God’s word and God’s people! Please pray that God would give Niko many years of gospel service. Pray that God will lead many Albanian people to freedom in Christ!

Written by: Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Missionary in Russia

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