Missionary Diary: Holding loosely to New Year plans in Albania

Joshua Reeve and his wife Ali are missionaries with European Christian Mission (ECM). They began leading short-term trips to Albania in 2008 and settled there in 2018, where they now have four children and help lead a church plant in the capital city of Tirana. Joshua reflects on what 2022 will hold for his family, church and community in Albania.

New Year always provides a great opportunity for reflection. How has the last year gone? What would we change, if we could? What are our hopes and dreams for the year to come? As we enter a new year, no doubt all of us will be looking ahead, making plans and maybe even some personal resolutions.

As I think about the year that lies ahead and the ministry possibilities that God is opening up here in Albania, there is much to be accomplished.

Kisha Dritë, the little church we helped to plant two years ago, is growing steadily and there are many opportunities for discipleship. Two months ago we launched our first weekly small group Bible studies. In the coming year, God willing, the church leaders will preach and teach through a series we called “This we believe …”, leading the congregation towards the momentous step of formalising our church membership structures (hopefully mid-year). We are also immensely looking forward to running baptism classes for the first time and baptising some of our number early in the year.

Josh Reeve teaches a Grad Dip in Theology class

Josh Reeve (back left) teaches a Grad Dip in Theology class

Meanwhile, there are growing opportunities for training church leaders. Last year we began a partnership with Union School of Theology in Wales, and I am mentoring a learning community of students here in Tirana as we study a Graduate Diploma in Theology together each Friday. Praise God, this course is having a fantastic impact on our church leadership — particularly in the area of preaching — and there are already new students waiting in the wings to begin their first year in September.

Another exciting ministry opportunity that will require a lot of work to get off the ground is the launch of a disability ministry in our church this year. We hope to start a weekly fellowship group for children with disabilities and their families, and we are currently in conversation with other churches about how we might support them to do the same.

Yes, there’s plenty of good things to plan and do this year.

As I look ahead to this great flurry of ministry activity, I genuinely feel excited. But the truth is that I also feel panicky and exhausted. How is half such a list of ministry objectives to be realised? This is why I’ve always personally disliked New Year plans and resolutions. They are inevitably focused on achievement — be it professional achievement, ministry development or even personal spiritual growth. But what happens if I just can’t achieve the things I’ve hoped and planned for the coming year? The possibility of setback and failure looms large.

People are the reason we’re in Albania.

In reflecting on the year ahead, I’m reminded by the Albanian culture around me that there’s more than one way to think about it. New Year is a big deal in Albania. On New Year’s Day, and the days following, Albanians will go and visit with neighbours and family members. They’ll exchange gifts of homemade baklava and spend until late in the day in each other’s company. For Albanians, the new year is all about people, not plans.

This wonderfully person-centred aspect of Albanian culture reminds me of the apostle Paul’s approach to ministry with the Thessalonian church: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess 2:8). Plans, accomplishments and New Year resolutions have their place, but often these reflect a culture that over-values achievement.

People are the reason we’re in Albania. Two weeks ago we held a Christmas party for our Bible study group in our home. Our Bible study group is largely made up of teenagers, so it was a wonderfully raucous affair, with guitars and drums and praise songs being sung late into the night. Goodness knows what the neighbours thought, but as I looked around at our living room filled with teenagers worshipping Jesus, I was reminded that this is why we’re here. Not to tick off a list of ministry plans and objectives, but to share our lives with people so that they might come to worship the King of kings. My prayer for the coming year is that I will hold much more loosely to my plans and invest more in people.