This summer marks the 7th year in a row that we've sent a team from Watermark Community Church to Albania. Over the years our group has grown a lot, not just in size (from 3 people in 2013 to almost 40 in 2019), but also in knowledge about how to operate discipleship trips. But what have we learned, what have we gained from continuing to do this? What has been the reason for growth, the purpose behind all this effort, the continued Mission that we have there? Why do we ask people to support us in this?
As we've grown, we've also had to change how we communicate what we do. In 2017 and prior we were "Team Albania," but in 2018 we called ourselves Albania+. So why the "+"? What does it mean to us? Does it mean...
In a sense, it encompasses all these things. However, there is something deeper that this simple symbol represents.
For the impatient, skip to our mission statement
In 2018 we sent 2 new teams projects outside of Albania. We began going to Poland and Hungary to work with Cru staff there. This was not a random decision, but rather we were invited by people with whom we had developed relationships and established trust. This was made possible due to a willingness on the part of Cru staff, and a willingness on the part of leaders who would lead teams and push the torch forward.
Every year since 2015 we've added more projects and more people. It started out when Kaon Serjani, then the director of High School ministries for Cru Albania, invited us to take a team to Elbasan. In 2016 we added a team to work with young professionals in Tirana, the capital city of Albania. In 2017 we sent a high school team to Korça, a city in the south of Albania. These additions were possible due to the invitations of Cru staff. And over the years we have continued to see fruit in the lives of high schoolers and adults with whom we've done ministry.
Two of our members have taken the step to move to Albania, with possibly more on the way. I (Gordon Burgett) spent two years in the STINT program with the Young Professionals ministry, leveraging my experience as a volunteer at The Porch (Watermark's young adults ministry) to help Albanians reach their peers in the workplace. Lauren Dean also did a STINT and is planning on a third year as the librarian at the international school, where she disciples the kids of missionaries, and disciples women in the local young adults ministry. We continue building deep relationships through shared life with the Albanian people.
In Poland, the 2018 project did not end when the team returned to the states. After the week-long retreat focused on Re:generation Recovery--a biblically based 12-step recovery program developed at Watermark--a group of about 30 Poles committed to working through the program and meeting weekly over Google Hangouts with Dallas-based group leaders. This ongoing project not only required the translation of 900+ pages of Re:gen material into Polish, but involved novel problem solving stemming from the first international launch of Re:gen. (The program has been launched in about 80 churches in the United States). The key to the program has been partnership between Cru leaders and leaders within the "Albania+" team.
In 2017, we invited 5 members of Cornerstone Church Albania to come to Watermark's Church Leaders Conference. We saw an opportunity to invest in some lay leaders who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to attend a conference of that sort. After the conference, they expressed a desire to form more authentic small groups at Cornerstone church. This led to a mens' small group conference in December of 2017 that we were invited to speak at.
Lauren Dean and I have also joined this church multiple times at its annual all-church retreat in Vlora. We have been able to build deeper relationships with church members through these shared discipleship events, and we have encouraged our friends to be the church in their communities.
I hope you've noticed how often I've used the word "relationship" in the above paragraphs. This is the heart of what the "+" means. We are intentionally engaged in encouraging and discipling our partners, just as they encourage and disciple us. We are experiencing the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" that Paul talks about in Ephesians 4:
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6
We have been put into a position to be able to support the church in Albania (and beyond) thanks to these deep relationships. As the local churches in Albania, Hungary, and Poland grow, they will begin to take over from Cru more of the activities that do not have a specific missionary intention, freeing Cru to focus wholly on those activities.
This term was coined by John Stott, in his book Christian Mission in the Modern World. He highlights the difference between activities with a missionary dimension and activities with a missionary intention. Activities with a missionary dimension are those that create strong believers who as a byproduct will go and share the Gospel, while those with a missionary intention are the ones whose expressed, direct purpose is evangelism and as a byproduct create strong believers. Ministries like Re:generation are activities with a missionary dimension, while the summer projects in Albania and Hungary are activities with a missionary intention.
Watermark is well-positioned to support the global church in these activities, and we as a team are well-positioned to be the bridge, offering the resources that Watermark makes available and adapting them to the cultures of the countries where we have these partnerships. Re:generation is just the beginning, because there are additional ways that we as a local church body (at Watermark) can resource and equip our Albanian, Hungarian, and Polish friends.
In the process, our members will also grow spiritually and be equipped as "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11). This is also part of the "+", and not to be taken lightly. "therefore you who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself?" (Romans 2:21a)
This leads us to...
We are building deep relationships in and beyond Albania
through mutual discipleship and partnering in evangelism
for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
We are excited for this mission. And we are praying for a greater and deeper "+". Holding fast to the promises of God, we are patiently and actively waiting for Him to reveal to us the next "+". This is our vision as we go on the projects that we have planned for summer 2019. Through our conversations, actions, and relationships we will strive to run the race well and complete the Great Commission by using all the tools at our disposal: activities with a missionary intention and those with a missionary dimension.