Albania, a country of 2.9 million people in southeastern Europe that is almost the size of Maryland, is the continent’s poorest nation, due in large part to its tumultuous history. Following its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, it was conquered by Italy in 1939. Then, in 1944, communist partisans took over.
All mosques and churches were closed in 1967, and religious observances were forbidden. It wasn’t until the 1990s—after 46 years of communism’s iron fist—that Albania established a democracy and began allowing religious freedom. Current religious statistics are not available, but it is estimated that 70 percent of the population is Muslim, 20 percent Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic.
Sean and Vita Mason, Foursquare Missions International (FMI) missionaries to Albania, live in the city of Korca and pastor the Foursquare church there, called Mission Emmanuel. Sean has been a missionary to Albania since 2001, serving as the pastor of Mission Emmanuel since 2006. Vita came to Albania in 2008, after they married. Both in their early 30s, they have a toddler and a newborn baby.
The couple’s main responsibility of oversight is Mission Emmanuel. There are four other Foursquare churches in Albania, as well: one in Tirana, one in Erseka, and two in Saranda.
How did you become involved ministering in Albania?
Sean: I graduated from Life Pacific College (also called LIFE Bible College) and was invited by my missionary cousins, Laura and Chris Dakas, to serve alongside them in Albania. I came in 2001, with a one-year commitment, and kept on extending it. Vita moved to Albania after we married in 2008.
In 2006, I was asked to pastor the Foursquare church in Korca. My desire is to see an Albanian native pastoring the church. Therefore, the main goal is to build up the leadership. We work on discipleship, training, motivating and helping the people grow in Christ, aiming to see the people getting more involved in church and taking ownership of it.
Vita: We both have a heart to work with the poor and marginalized people, helping them out and empowering them. While studying at college, Sean used to work with immigrants in Los Angeles. I had volunteered for two years with Mercy Ships in West Africa (Benin and Liberia), and was involved with various community development programs. Of course, our ultimate goal is to show God’s love through whatever we do and help people find Jesus!
What would you like people in the U.S. to know about ministry in Albania?
Sean: It takes time to see change in people’s lives. Christianity is relatively young in Albania, because all religious practice had been banned until the arrival of democracy in the 1990s. Therefore, there aren’t any deep Christian traditions in the country. In addition, everything in Albanian culture is extremely relationship oriented.
Vita: It is hard for local churches to be financially self-sufficient, in part because the country is poor, and in part because of faulty practices in the past (e.g., people are used to foreign aid and handouts). Our goal for the church we pastor is to be self-sufficient; we see more value in partnership in ministry than in handouts.
Tell us about your desire to reach youth through extreme sports.
Sean and Vita: Serdi is a 19-year-old teen and comes from a traditional Muslim family. Our paths crossed because of his and Jordan’s (a friend who had been a missionary to Albania for a few years) common interest in the extreme sports.
In addition to working on motorcycles and hiking, Serdi started attending youth meetings, where he found friends and started asking questions about his personal beliefs. Until the day he made a decision to follow Christ, he had been working seven days a week. He started praying for a job with Sunday off so that he could come to church. His prayers were answered, and now we see him growing in Christ even more.
We are working on starting several ministries in town that would help reach out to youth through extreme sports. We know Serdi would gladly get involved; moreover, we believe he has the heart and ability to lead these ministries.
Have any short-term missions teams come from the U.S. to help out?
Sean and Vita: In April 2010, Al and Kathy Carpenter, assisting ministers from our sending church, New Life (Canby Foursquare Church) in Canby, Ore., visited us to encourage the church and us personally, and to build stronger bonds between the two churches.
In June 2011, an American/Romanian Master’s Commission team spent a week here doing youth work. Kelly and Ellen Cupples, senior pastors of Life Fellowship (Fort Morgan Foursquare Church) in Fort Morgan, Colo., visited in October 2011. It was their fifth visit to Albania and third to Korca. They have been coming to encourage the churches and believers, and to build stronger relationships.
What is your vision for the future?
Sean and Vita: We plan to keep on investing in people’s lives, both through the church and the community outreach projects we are doing. Our goal is to raise up local church leadership and empower as many Albanians as possible to do the job.
Our desire is also to see the church have a greater impact in the city. We have started a “Church in the City” initiative, where once every few months we go out and do some community work instead of the Sunday church service.
How to Pray for the Masons:
- Pray for indigenous church leadership
- Pray for a giver, not taker, mentality and lifestyle to be developed
- Pray for more interest in spiritual, rather than material, things
- Pray for their life as a family
- Pray for wisdom in reaching out to their city
- Pray for humility and wisdom in working with the people (e.g., discipleship, church work, aid).
How You Can Bless the Masons:
Our Foursquare missionaries are always encouraged by and grateful for any prayers and correspondence they receive. Whether it’s a gift sent on a holiday, or simply a letter or note of encouragement, you can make a difference by expressing your support in a practical way.
c/o Qendra Stefan
Rr. Hoxha Tahsim 1
Interview conducted by: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles