Building bridges, community and faith in Albania

By July 22, 2017Archive

A men’s group supported by BMS World Mission in Albania is bringing people from different cultural backgrounds together to talk about God, their lives and (naturally) a bit of football.

It seems like a simple concept – five men sitting around a table having a BBQ each Tuesday. They chat about life, spirituality, football and everything in-between. It may even seem common for a men’s church group in the UK, but it isn’t in a country like Albania. Especially not for men. 
In Tirana, Albania, this unique men’s group is connecting people in a remarkable way. “It’s grown beyond our expectations,” says Mat Gregory, a BMS mission worker who leads the ‘Eat, talk, pray’ men’s group. In the space of only one year members have increased from five to 20 men.
It’s really rare to get a group of men in Albania to meet in a structured way like this outside of working hours, particularly to chat about spirituality. Most of the men who meet together have never been to church, but they have been very open to discussing faith. Mat believes it all comes down to the consistent attendance. As relationships have strengthened, it’s created an open and respectful environment where the men feel comfortable enough to share more personal feelings. “For men here, this is quite hard,” says Mat. “They’re less open and a little more suspicious of one another. It’s taken longer, but the group has reached a deeper level. And to reach that level where they talk about issues that don’t come naturally for men is really great.”
It’s also not natural to get such a diverse group of men together. They range in ages from 15 to late 60s and they come from different cultural backgrounds. Men from Egyptian, Roma and Albanian backgrounds sit together around the same table. “It’s exciting,” says Mat. “Usually these communities don’t connect very well together. Bridges are being built between neighbours that previously wouldn’t have wanted to.”
The success of the men’s group sparked a women’s ‘Eat, talk, pray’ group to start too. “It immediately touched on something that was really important for the women in this area,” says Mat. “A sense of community.”
Naturally, women get together more often with their neighbours in Albania, but this group is enhancing their connections with each other and enriching their spiritual understanding. “As they talk about their joys and struggles, they’re doing it in this new context where it’s framed in a way that says ‘there is a heavenly Father who cares for you in all of this too,’” says Mat.
There’s also hope that a new group will form. “There’s been individuals from both groups who want to go on a more in-depth spiritual journey,” says Mat. “So we’re hoping to create a group that will follow a more structured discipleship programme.”
These informal church groups are simple – gathering around a table to share food, life and faith. But, they are also extraordinary. Beyond the table, they are helping people connect with each other, despite differences, and to see God in a whole new light.
Who knew? All you need is a BBQ, chats about football and a bit of structure to get people talking about faith and looking past differences.