Saturday, March 11, 2006

Albanians & Macedonians United Together

It’s hard to put into words the impact of the last several days.  In some ways, I’m still stunned, having taken away much that I understand, and at the same time haunted by things just beyond my conceptual reach, phantoms of blessings yet to be understood.  Last night I returned from an historic two-day conference in Bitola Macedonia which I attended to with two national co-workers, Naim and Fatmir, along with Jason, another missionary working with the BUM church in Prishtina.  I say historic because to the best of anyone’s knowledge, it was the first time in history that Albanians from Kosovo and Albania together with Macedonians had gathered together in one place to pray, hear from God and to seek his face for Unity in the Church.


None of us really knew what to expect from the conference.  Though billed as a “prayer conference,” the theme was “unity” and the main speaker was Ruth Ruibal, the wife of a martyred pastor from Cali, Columbia.  Gathered together in an old, mountain “resort” hotel were representatives from 24 nations.  I didn’t get them all, but they included:

Albania                          Australia                        Bosnia                           Brazil

Columbia                       Denmark                        El Salvador                    England

Finland                          France                           Germany                        Italy

Kosovo                         Macedonia                     New Zealand                  Norway

Sweden                         United States                                                     


So two hundred of us gathered there, listening to what God has been doing in one of the most violent cities on earth, Cali, Columbia, over the last 10-15 years.  Ruth’s husband was a pastor/evangelist in one Cali and was gunned down in 1995 on his way to a pastors’ meeting.  But this only happened after the pastors in Cali gathered the Christians of the city together in unity for prayer over their city.  On a number of separate occasions, the Church of God gathered together, up to 45,000 believers, to intercede for their city.  And God responded in awesome ways.  You can learn more about that from their website, or her book.  As powerful as her testimony and preaching was, equally powerful was the effect that it had those of us at the conference.


Numerous people stood and confessed their hatred for others of the various ethnic groups.  They asked publicly for forgiveness…and forgiveness was given.  As I write this I sense the weakness of my words to convey what happened.  As I said, this was the first time in history that a group this large has gathered together to ask for forgiveness, pray for unity and strategize how to reach each other’s ethnic groups.


The history of the Balkans is the history of the failure of the church.  The dividing line between the eastern and western Church goes right through the Balkans and it is the church that has failed this region.  That fracture happened a thousand years ago, resulting in the Great Schism of 1054, but the effects of that fracture carry on today.  But what I saw at this conference, were the descendents of those same Catholic, Orthodox and now, Muslim, people coming together united.  Now they follow Jesus Christ, not the pope, the metropolitan or Mohammed.  God is doing what centuries of war, millions of dollars or the United Nations has been unable to do…bring people together for forgiveness and reconciliation through the Church of Jesus Christ.


Not only was there much talk, prayer, and forgiveness, there was also a lot of strategic networking.  There was a lot of offline conversation about how to reach the Albanian people in northern and western Macedonia.  And it wasn’t just Albanian pastors and foreign missionaries having these discussions.  It was Macedonia pastors asking for help from the Albanians.  Help us reach your people here in Macedonia.


Only God knows what will come out of this conference, but God is doing a new thing that hasn’t been seen before in the history of this region.  And I don’t think that’s just hyperbole. 


I’ve uploaded a bunch of pictures to my Flickr site.  You can find this set here.



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