April 16, 2014

Allegheny West Members Minister in the Aftermath of Communism

BY CHRISTOPHER THOMPSONand Visitor
staff

In Albania, a country
rebounding from Communism and a largely secular Muslim population, the Roma
people struggle to find adequate employment, education and healthcare. A group
from Allegheny West Conference recently traveled to this Southeastern European
country to help.

The stamp of Communism is still visible in
Albania. The citizens have modern vehicles and cell phones, but in many ways
the country is stuck. Until about 20 years ago Communism kept Albania a closed
country. No one was allowed in or out. This also meant no religious freedom.
But there are no locked doors where God’s Spirit is involved.

Although Albania is still a largely secular
Muslim country, the Holy Spirit is definitely working through the Albanian
Mission and ADRA Albania. Beatrice Kastrati, director of ADRA Albania, talked
passionately about the needs of the people: “There’s a great disparity between
the rich and the poor… There are areas of corruption … there is so much work to
do here.”

Young people surround Pastor Jason Ridley. [Photo: Columbia Union Visitor]About two years ago, Sergio Romero, director of
Multicultural Ministries for the Allegheny West
Conference (AWC), heard of the need in Albania. “I started
to pray for the people in Albania, specifically for the Roma (Gypsy) people,”
he says. “They are the underprivileged people in Albania. This people, out of
prejudice, don’t have access to medical services or education. I have in my
heart to serve those that nobody else wants to serve.”

He then got in touch with ADRA Albania to find
out how he could help. They invited him to bring members of his New Experience
mission group along with 11 AWC members. A total of 50 pastors, children
ministry leaders, general contractors, and medical professionals, from four
countries and 10 states visited the country for mission work.

The group spent a week in the Albanian capital
of Tirana and surrounding cities preaching revivals, providing free health
clinics, health fairs and Vacation Bible School (VBS). Approximately 75
children poured into the ADRA compound daily for VBS. More than 500 medical
cases were treated. And between the five revivals, approximately 30 people made
decisions to be baptized.

“While in Albania, God showed me how awesome it
is to serve others,” said Amneris Martinez, a member of the Manantial de Vida
Spanish group in Columbus, Ohio.

Shirley Benton, AWC Women’s Ministries leader,
agreed, “This mission trip was an amazing ministry of love. We went to minister
to those who have so little, and saw the joy and gratitude on their faces as we
gave them medical assistance, food, toys and clothing. We saw hope come alive
as love and the Word of Jesus Christ was shared with them. It is a country
waiting for the good news of the gospel.”

Jason Ridley, pastor of the Hilltop church in
Columbus, says this was his sixth international mission trip. “It was
refreshing because the Seventh-day Adventist Church in that country is fairly
new. I was the first Adventist to preach in the city of Fieri where 90 percent
of the people in the church were very young,” he recalled.

Romero said he would never forget meeting
12-year-old Alda. “She is in first grade. She is finally attending school
because of the amazing job that ADRA is doing there. She was proud that she was
able to write her name. For a whole week, she attended our VBS program and she
was an incredible girl.”

He hopes that this is only the beginning of a
long partnership with the Albanian mission. Kastrati dreams of building a
community center for girls, a home for senior citizens and much more. And
Allegheny West has already been invited to come back next year.

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