June 2, 1999

Baptists united in ministry
to Kosovar refugees in Albania

___By Martha Skelton
___European Baptist Press Service
___TIRANA, Albania (ABP)--An extended family of dozens of men, women and children cook on a bare floor while sitting on lawn chairs in an otherwise empty room an Albanian family has opened to them. They accept with gratitude several boxes of food, foam mattresses and blankets brought to them by a pastor and volunteers from a local Baptist church.
___A small handicapped boy, whose father had to carry him on the long walk from their village in Kosovo to Albania, is measured in a Christian clinic for a new wheelchair.
___A refugee camp in Tirana is set up around a swimming pool complex. It desperately
SOUTHERN BAPTIST MISSIONARY Lee Bradley (right) visits ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo who were taken in by an Albanian family in Tirana. Church member Gani Mena took 22 refugees into his home.
needs a kitchen to feed several thousand refugees. The major relief agency running the camp calls for a man they heard could help, a Baptist missionary in the area who has been working for several years to help local Albanians develop businesses making tile and cement blocks. He oversees construction of the kitchen in half the time they expect. The materials, training and people already were in place, the missionary explains.
___A network of evangelical groups has gathered around the Baptist Foundation of Tirana to coordinate a Christ-centered response to the needs of more than 400,000 Kosovar refugees estimated to have entered Albania in the last few months.
___When they can pause to reflect, they marvel at God's timing not only in the past frantic weeks, but also months and years before.
___Eight years ago, the European Baptist Federation launched an effort to begin Baptist work in Albania. The result was the Baptist Foundation of Tirana, an organizational structure that has become a focal point for cooperation among evangelical groups arriving in Albania in response to the refugee emergency.
___Organizations including the Baptist World Alliance, Salvation Army and several national Baptist groups--among them the U.S.-based International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative
__Baptist Fellowship--have worked through the Foundation to provide funds needed locally to buy food, supplies and essentials.
___When 20 tons of flour arrived for a modest refugee ministry in Albania last year, Jonathan Steeper, director of the Baptist Center in Tirana, put it in a warehouse until it was needed. When the first refugees swarmed across the border in Kukes, Albania, last March, a call went out for help, and Baptists loaded the flour on trucks and headed for Kukes.
___A government spokesman there said to Kosovar Pastor Bekim Beka, "The Baptists are the first to come with food, not promises."
___Beka left his home for Albania and began a new ministry with Baptists in Tirana last year. A refugee himself, Beka already was in place when the crisis came and is directing the Baptist refugee effort for Kosovars.
___Statistics are constantly changing, but a recent weekly report from the Foundation included distribution of 736 food boxes (each designed to feed up to four people); soap, baby food and hygiene products; 1,097 mattresses; 2,024 blankets; and 771 packets of disposable diapers.
___Items are distributed to families who live with host Albanian families that otherwise
LESS THAN A WEEK after seven Southern Baptist missionaries arrived in Albania to minister to refugees fleeing Yugoslavia's Kosovo province, workers had rented a warehouse in Tirana and begun assembling food packets. (BP photos by Grace Robinette)
cannot afford to feed them. The refugees are located through registration lists and divided into geographic areas. The pastors and church volunteers from those areas take the aid items to the families. Sixteen churches are taking aid to 5,000 refugees.
___In association with other Christian agencies, most notably the Salvation Army, the Baptist Foundation of Tirana also is helping feed thousands of refugees in camps around Tirana and soon also in other areas of Albania.
___Various missions organizations are active as part of the effort. The International Mission Board has provided $135,000 for refugee aid. Missionary Lee Bradley and a team of workers left their work in Bosnia to come to Tirana and set up the warehouse where the food boxes are assembled and distributed.
___Baptist Missionary Society in Great Britain has both missionaries and volunteers working through churches and specialized ministries such as the ABC Medical Clinic in Tirana, which offers free medical care and medicine to refugees. Many arriving in Albania had to flee without their diabetes or heart medicine or eyeglasses, said Yvonne Wheeler, a missionary nurse.
___Her husband, missionary David Wheeler, works with the tile-and-cement-block-making endeavor. Albania's economy was so bad that early church-planting efforts were hindered by younger men emigrating to find work. The goal was to provide local jobs and contribute to church stability.
___When the refugee camp at Tirana called on Wheeler to build the kitchen, "We had the blocks ready, the warehouse ready, the lorry ready," he said.
___They built it in three weeks instead of the expected six. "We felt the Lord was in it," he said.
___Spiritual needs are no less urgent than the physical.
___Both Albanians and the refugees from Kosovo are ethnically identified as Muslims. Most Albanians are not religious in any sense, but attendance at mosques around the refugee areas has increased, because more Kosovars are practicing Muslims. Where there were 10 mosques in the country of Albania in 1990, there are now 1,500 new mosques built with outside money. Copies of the Koran are offered for free at the mosques.
___Evangelicals helping the refugees also seek opportunities to tell them about the love of Christ expressed both in word and deed. Sometimes they are able to help by nothing more than sitting and listening as refugees talk about their experiences.
___Alfred "Fredi" Golloshi, an Albanian Baptist leader, recently made such a call to a refugee family in Tirana to whom he delivers food. Their story, told mainly by a middle-aged mother, is heart-rending.
___From the village of Jakovica--Kosovars call it Jakova--she described how during the past few months her husband was taken away and shot. Then Serb soldiers came, burning homes and herding villagers into two rooms of a house--men in one room, women and children in the other. The building was then bombed. The woman's two teenage daughters were killed by the bombing--one decapitated. She and a 13-year-old son escaped into nearby hills.
___They watched for hours as helicopters circled the village aiming to shoot anyone seen alive. They and other family members regrouped and fled to Albania.
___They feel comfortable talking to Golloshi and grateful for his help. "We are living on what you bring us," the woman tells him.
___Some of the refugees have asked about the Christian faith and attended church services. A regular Kosovar worship service was scheduled to begin May 21 at the Baptist Center in Tirana.
___Beka says now is the time for people called to work with Kosovars to make the long-term commitment to come to Albania and learn the language and culture while working with the refugees. Then when the refugees return to Kosovo, the new workers can go along as part of a church-planting effort there.


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