Albanian churches help children with special needs
When Christians from Germany began to bring relief supplies to the Albanian village of Bishnica in 1992, Gjergj Lushka was just 4 years old. It was not only material things that went on this difficult journey — the relief workers also planted seeds of faith in the hearts of many residents, as they did in Lushka’s heart.
So he was a part of the emerging United Methodist Church in Albania as a child. Then his parents, seeing no future where they were, took a step which many people take even today: They moved to Elbasan, the fourth-largest city of the country, hoping for better prospects.
The United Methodist Church in Albania had soon realized that when building up a church it is not enough just to wait for people to come into the open doors of the church. For this reason, from 2008 onward new church communities were founded with the focus on cities to which people were moving, and not on the increasingly depopulated villages.
Lushka later moved from Elbasan to Tirana, to study social work and social politics at the university there. A United Methodist church in the Albanian capital became his spiritual home. After graduating he found a post as a social worker with the organization Help the Life and gained valuable experience in assisting and integrating children with special needs, as well as supporting their parents.
Because there is a great lack of assistance in this area, The United Methodist Church in Albania set up its own Early Intervention Center. Lushka was now able to use the knowledge and experience he had acquired, in cooperation with other experts. Conversations, therapy and consulting became specific forms of caring.
The Early Intervention Center was closed when its collaboration with Help the Life came to an end. However, the wish for such help remained, so staff members looked for ways to continue the work.
First, however, a completely different possibility presented itself: People from other parts in Albania who once had been active part of a United Methodist congregation and then had moved to Durrës asked if they could also set up a church there. Lushka, who had begun to study theology under a course offered by the Church of the Nazarene, was entrusted with setting up this new church.
The first service took place in July 2017 in a rented apatment. Lushka now travels the 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) from Tirana to Durrës every Sunday in order to preach. With support from volunteers, Bible study groups and English courses are growing — as is the network of contacts in Durrës. The church tries to listen to find out what the people’s needs are and considers how to respond.
On the leadership team of The United Methodist Church in Albania, Lushka is responsible for the development of social work projects. After consulting with the authorities of the city of Tirana, the church was given permission to establish a new Early Intervention Center for the children of two districts of the city. The church is regarded by government authorities as a trustworthy and reliable partner.
The new center’s staff includes a woman psychiatrist with 30 years of experience in dealing with children with special needs, as well as two further employees. City authorities provided them lists of children needing support and assistance. They are currently verifying these lists, establishing contact with the parents and explaining to them what the center offers.
The operating phase is currently temporary, but the object is to be able to be there for people for an indefinite period.
Schweizer is assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Central and Southern Europe Episcopal Area.
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