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Albania evangelism project suspended for this summer

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Plans to recruit 300 Southern Baptist volunteers for Albania this summer have been canceled by the Foreign Mission Board, after the looting of equipment and materials in March that had been used for showing the “Jesus” film in Albanian villages.
The looting occurred in the midst of chaos and anarchy that engulfed Europe’s poorest nation, sparked by the collapse of a widespread “pyramid” scheme in which many Albanians lost all their savings.
Equipment and materials used in the yearly Albania Evangelical Rural Outreach (AERO) effort in Albanian villages for showing the”Jesus” film were looted from a storage facility in Tirana, the nation’s capital, according to a March 21 report by European Baptist Press Service.
More than 830 villages in Albania’s rugged countryside have been the focus of Project AERO, a cooperative venture involving the Foreign Mission Board, Campus Crusade for Christ, Helimission, various other evangelical organizations and Albanian believers.
Project AERO has been one of many evangelistic thrusts in Albania,which have yielded up to 100 churches and 8,000 believers in the former atheistic, communist country of 3.4 million people. Among others efforts: the work of nearly 500 evangelical missionaries, most of them now evacuated, including 18 FMB workers, and the showing of the “Jesus”film in theaters around the country.
Among Campus Crusade property stolen from Project AERO were 16 sets of projectors, screens and generators for showing the film, 300 beds, kitchen equipment and other items used to establish base camps in Albanian villages for teams of volunteers who have worked in the project each summer since 1994.
Rioters also burned Bibles and evangelistic materials that were in storage. Campus Crusade placed the total loss at $120,000.
News of the canceled volunteer recruitment is being reported in the FMB magazine The Commission issue planned for June. Earlier, Baptist Press had reported the FMB had placed the recruitment on hold.
Hundreds of Project AERO workers have shown Campus Crusade’s”Jesus” film to more than 67,000 Albanians since 1994, resulting in hundreds of Albanians committing their lives to Christ and churches organizing rapidly.
Don Mansfield, who directs Campus Crusade ministry in Albania,said he hopes Project AERO can resume in the summer of 1998.
How quickly normalcy will return to Albania remains to be seen.According to a Reuters report May 9, Albania’s 10 main political parties have signed an agreement for elections to take place in June.
Campus Crusade’s Mansfield noted, “It’s interesting that if you superimpose a map of Albania showing where Project AERO showings of ‘Jesus’ have been over a map of where the rioting broke out, you’ll see that the areas of rebellion almost exactly match the areas where Project AERO and other village outreach efforts have not yet been. Many of those areas were targeted for this summer.”
Even before the upheavals, Mansfield said, Project AERO organizers had sought to work quickly. “I’ve always had a sense of urgency in terms of looking at Islam being re﷓established in the country and knowing it’s a race.” About 70 percent of Albanians are considered nominal Muslims.
Among prayer requests cited for Albania are:
1) Pray for the political situation to stabilize. Pray that the June elections will result in leaders who can re﷓establish order without prohibiting freedom.
2) Pray for Albanian Christians, still young in their faith,leading fledgling churches and mission efforts. Pray, too, for more national leaders for new churches.
3) Pray for the future of Project AERO and other planned outreaches. Approximately half the population still has hade no chance to hear the gospel message. And pray the seed of the gospel already planted in thousands of lives would bear fruit.
Mansfield said he believes a spiritual openness in Albania will continue. “In the spirit of the average Albanian today, there is a great despair which is causing a great spiritual hunger. They feel that materialism has let them down, as has their government and the West as well, since the financial schemes that triggered the riots came from Western entrepreneurs,” Mansfield said. “This void leaves many openings for communicating the eternal hope of the gospel, as Western materialism is not the answer.”
Meanwhile, among Albanian believers, there is “the beautiful drama of a church unfolding its wings in prayer,” wrote a missionary still in the country, whose account was printed in the Pulse newsletter published by the Evangelical Missions Information Service.
“We have had daily prayer meetings now at noon,” the missionary wrote, “giving those (whose families will let them venture out) enough time to get back before the streets empty. Others join us from their homes. Each prayer meeting for the last two weeks has carried with it a sweet sense of the presence of the Lord, sometimes expressed in buoyant worship at God’s faithfulness in the storm, sometimes in groaning intercession for our nation, sometimes in grief and repentance over our own sin and that of our nation.”