The roots of the Methodist mission in Albania go back to the 19th century. In those days, American missionaries (later increasingly replaced by Albanians) did not only preach and teach the Gospel, but they also provided help in daily life. Their efforts to provide the population with basic schooling were of especial importance. For many years the «Protestants» ran the only school for girls in Albania, and they also played an important role in the development of a common alphabet to integrate Albania's various regions and dialects. Unfortunately, this hopeful work was not graced with longevity.
Albanian Communism took a strict and destructive form like no other in Europe, and entirely banned religion to the extent that Albania was officially declared to be the world’s first atheist state. When the country opened up politically in the early 1990s, it was in ruins. A process of cautious reconstruction followed, and even though it is sometimes overshadowed by unrest and tension, this process is irreversible.
In 1992, dedicated Christians from Germany began to support this process by bringing material goods to Albania and rebuilding the school infrastructure in some mountain villages of southeastern Albania. Most of the activities focused on Bishnica, a remote mountain village of 800 residents, and its surroundings. The dedication of these German Christians had a remarkable impact, and during the following years the work was extended. On the one hand educational, medical and forestry projects were established. On the other hand several doors opened up for the Gospel so that in July 1998, with the baptism of the first Christians, the UMC in Bishnica could be established.
While still more than 50% of Albania’s population lives in rural areas, many – particularly young – people are now migrating to larger towns or even to foreign countries as they see no long-term future for themselves in the small and often remote villages. This has also implications on the life of the UMC. Due to internal migration within Albania, its work is no longer focused on Bishnica, but has also spread into other parts of the country. In Tirana and Pogradec two hopeful new churches have been established in 2008.
The leaders of the UMC in Albania aim to combine sharing the Gospel and contributing towards a positive transformation of the society. This broad understanding of church development is essential since many people are neither aware of any church tradition nor do they have any religious experiences they could refer to. The current development of the UMC in Albania is hopeful: The local churches, which are mainly led by lay people, are very lively and consist of people from all generations. They are welcoming groups attracting and inviting others. And their ministries are an example of what it means that Christian faith and discipleship need to have a social aspect, as well.