Imagine for a moment what it would be like if North Korea, perhaps the country most closed to the gospel, suddenly opened to the outside world and even allowed Christians to come and plant churches. After 500 years of Islamic rule under the Ottoman Empire and 45 years under Communist and atheist rule, Albania’s situation was similar. In 1991 when the Communist regime fell, Albania was the most closed country in the world, with zero churches and few known believers. Four years later missionaries Kurt and Stephanie Plagenhoef arrived in the country and got to work. Today there are 200 evangelical churches and more than 20,000 believers!
One of the key factors of the Plagenhoefs’ ministry is their commitment to training. They believe strongly that the church must grow and be sustained under national leadership, and because of that, they have continually preached the gospel, trained local church pastors, and discipled believers. Kurt explained, “As missionaries we measure success by raising up a vibrant national church that will win their own people as well as send out national missionaries to the unreached of the Balkans and beyond.”
Of course, pioneering a work in a former Communist country has not been easy. The Plagenhoefs’ biggest challenge has been spiritual warfare. “Every inch of ground that we have taken for the kingdom of God and every soul that has been won for Christ has come through prayer, fasting, and persevering spiritual warfare,” said Kurt. “You cannot enter enemy territory that has been ruled by demonic principalities for centuries and possess it for the kingdom of God in a day. It takes a long-term commitment to Christ, the people, and spiritual engagement that brings them from darkness to light.” That long-term commitment turned into over 20 years of investment to get to this point.
Now looking toward the future, from a country with little historical witness of the gospel, comes a vision of reaching into other unreached places. The Albania Assemblies of God Fellowship has a bold missions vision that includes sending Albanian missionaries and missions teams into other Balkan countries: Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and other locations in the Balkans. Kurt and Stephanie consider it a blessing to have been a part of the incredible story of what God is doing in Albania. “It’s been a special privilege, challenge, and joy to raise up a first generation church…to preach the gospel, disciple believers, train workers, and send out our first national missionaries. It’s an apostolic work in frontier missions.”