Operation Christmas Child Grows Albanian Church

March 16, 2017 • Albania
Operation Christmas Child Albania

Shoebox gifts in Albania start church clubs for children

Mark Datson is the Operation Christmas Child Regional Director for the Baltics, Balkans, and Central Europe.

“… in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum [in present-day Albania] I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19, NKJV).

Today, Operation Christmas Child is helping children to be transformed by this same Gospel.

I visited Albania at the beginning of their Orthodox Easter Weekend. The marketplace in front of the huge Orthodox church was buzzing with people buying candles and Easter trinkets. Inside the church, people were placing candles, genuflecting, queuing up at the central altar, and kissing icon after icon.

In a restaurant across the street, I was meeting with Christians from local churches who had been involved in Operation Christmas Child outreach events last December and have been following up with The Greatest Journey, a 12-week discipleship program. This was our time to hear how things had gone.

“We have at least 40 children every week now! We’ve started a club for children from outside the church!”

“Our outreaches have brought us 70 new children—20 here in town and 50 in a village we are reaching out to.”

“It’s been a blessing for the whole church, not just the children! It’s great for us to have received training and be giving Bible lessons.”

“Twenty-five parents attended the TGJ [The Greatest Journey] graduation event—it’s a big encouragement for us, a big step for our church.”

“Our children’s club used to have 15 coming; now we have 30 or more every week—and that’s even while the local mosque is trying to start a kids club at exactly the same time!”

“OCC [Operation Christmas Child] has been a blessing for our church-planting efforts in Pojan!”

“It’s been a huge blessing for our church. We followed the ‘Friend to Friend’ model very strictly! Children gave invitations to their friends. We were able to share the Gospel at the outreach event, and now we are going on with The Greatest Journey.”

“This was our church’s first time to take part in OCC. It’s a very good way to share the Gospel. We held one event for families of disabled children. One family had a daughter who had autism; they allowed her to continue coming to church and now she has confessed Christ as her Savior. We’ve started TGJ—it’s really wonderful, and the teacher’s guide has so many practical ideas. Our TGJ club started with seven children, but now 20 come every week.”

“In our village, OCC has been a huge blessing. It was an opportunity for children and families to come to church, and many never heard about our faith before. It was great to see our young people involved in giving out gifts. Lots of kids came to the TGJ club and are still coming.”

“We held an outreach event in a very small village that people hardly ever visit. There were 36 children in the school. While we were there, many parents heard about it and came to thank us for coming, as no one had visited them in a long time! We built good relationships with families, and our church is now helping some of the poor families. There was a 12-year-old girl there who had just become a mother; we are helping her, and she is also attending our TGJ club.”

“We visited a very poor family to share a gift with them. One of the boys in the family said ‘I really want a football!’ When he opened the gift we gave him, there was a football inside!”

In visiting other areas, I heard similar testimonies—all 12 churches in that region involved in Operation Christmas Child now have more children in their clubs. On Saturday, one church had a graduation event for The Greatest Journey with 40 children and another with 30 children!

This fruit is the result of many years of prayer and the perseverance of Operation Christmas Child international staff members—it took five or six years to build an Operation Christmas Child team in this area. We praise God for His faithfulness, that in a post-communist country where “volunteering” used to be for the party and at the point of a gun, we now have truly passionate volunteers who we value. In a country where the population of evangelical Christians is less than 1 percent, we are truly carrying on Paul’s work to faithfully proclaim the Gospel and bring hope to this nation.