A Visit to Albania
I want to tell you about Olger Kapxhiu, one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. Olger is the pastor of a congregation of 30-40 in the gritty, depressed mining town of Prrenjas, Albania. Over the years and as he studied God’s Word, Olger has become Reformed in his theology. He is bi-vocational, teaching English at the local public school, while his wife Suzana works in the municipality office. Together they have three boys aged 14, 16 and 18.
I was introduced to Olger while traveling through the Balkan interior with Albanian church planter Andi Dina. Over coffee, Olger shared his heart for reaching the town of Prrenjas with the gospel. His great desire is to make Christ known to all. He and his family are busy rendering diaconal assistance to the materially needy that God brings across their path. They give away a good portion of their already slim salaries to the destitute around them. Olger has a glass eye that is noticeably poorly made. But he cannot bring himself to spend money to have it replaced, when he knows there are needs all around him. “It doesn’t matter if I look a bit odd,” he said. “I would rather help people with my money than buy a new glass eye.”
When we were there, Pastor Kapxhiu had recently had a load of firewood dumped in his yard for the purpose of heating his home and the church, which are in one building. But his conscience troubled him, knowing that he had ample wood, while there were elderly women in the neighbourhood who did not have enough. So, he and his boys loaded up the wheelbarrow and went up and down the streets, delivering wood. “How could I not do this? I have wood; they do not. I must share it!” he declared to me.
In the course of our conversation, Andi and I explained that one of the things that Come Over & Help does is help churches with their diaconal ministry; would there be an opportunity here for us to give towards his church’s mercy ministry, empowering them to do more? Clearly, this thought had never crossed his mind. Gerti (Olger’s common name) pondered this for a while, and then muttered, “I don’t like it. I want to help from my own resources.” Andi explained that yes, of course, that can continue, but with our help, he could do even more. Gerti seemed doubtful, and Andi said that they would discuss this in more depth later.
As we drove away, Andi told me that he had given Olger and his wife a sum of money to use for a vacation some months earlier. They hadn’t been on vacation in many years and were tired. When he called Olger later to see how the vacation went, Olger sheepishly explained that they had used the funds for a different purpose. It bothered Olger that the front of the church was unfinished; it reflected badly on the church, and even worse, on his Lord and Saviour. So instead of taking a vacation, he poured a concrete pad!
Andi has a heart to help remote, isolated pastors like Olger by visiting them regularly, sharing Reformed resources with them, and gathering them together for study, prayer, fellowship, and rest. In further conversations with Andi, Olger has recognized that, with the help of brothers and sisters in North America who give to Come Over & Help, the church in Prrenjas can do even more to reach out with mercy and gospel ministry; his reluctance has turned to eagerness at the new possibilities.
I do not know that I have ever met someone quite like Pastor Kapxhiu. It is humbling and inspiring. It seems to me that often, though not invariably, the less material wealth we have, the less attached we become to this world’s goods. By God’s grace, our hold of ‘our’ possessions is loosened, and we can then focus on being rich toward God and others. It seems to me that we in the affluent West can learn much from devoted servants of God like Olger. On behalf of them, I thank you for your gifts that have allowed Olger, his family and church to amplify their acts of service in their community!