In a beautiful coastal area, in Spille (Albania), the second United Methodist Regional Youth Camp took place – with about 30 young people present from the three neighboring countries Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Four years ago, a similar camp had taken place on the Macedonian side of Lake Ohrid.
The topic of the camp was «Being a Disciple of Christ», and the 30 participants, about 10 each from Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia, heard from lecturers representing all three countries and sharing their understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, thus both encouraging and challenging everybody to stay true to their faith in Jesus Christ.
Looking from aside, this camp may look like any other – nothing special to see or talk about. But as Superintendent Daniel Sjanta explained the background, it became obvious that this gathering was more than just another camp: «For decades, the region of the Balkans has been very turbulent and unstable. Several new countries came into existence in the past 30 years, and there were several other attempts of creating new countries, which failed, but the bitterness and hostility remained. We all grew up with some prejudices – and with the notion that we are good, and the others are bad».
Can a Church make a difference in such a situation? Yes, says Daniel Sjanta: «We, the Methodists in the region, have always tried to work on overcoming those issues and for years, we have been in contact. And then in April 2019, a new moment happened. At the meeting of Serbia-North Macedonia Annual Conference, it was decided that a third district would be added – Albania. This was an important step in the right direction. We are now a very diverse Conference, but we understand that our calling to be a Disciple of Christ means that we follow Christ together as one Church! And this camp we had in Albania was an attempt, a successful one, I might add, to overcome all the political nonsense and focus on Christ, but also on individual people». It was an encouraging experience for all participants: young people who came together, worshipped together, swam together, did crafts together, talked to each other, prayed for each other, played games, and laughed well into the night.
Daniel Sjanta highlighted two very special moments of the camp: «It was our last full day together and it happened at the beach. First, there was the baptism of Aleksa, a young man from Serbia, who had expressed a desire to be baptized during the camp. Later that day, we came to the beach to watch the sunset, but it turned into a Beach Worship service, where we sat in a circle and praised the Lord, everybody singing songs in their own language».
What made this camp meaningful? «For me personally», said Daniel Sjanta, «this camp was so meaningful, because I saw among the participants developing and future leaders of our Church who are growing in faith together and who are not afraid of what the world is saying, but who listen to the voice of Jesus, who is our Shepherd and Lord, and whose Disciples we all are».
Source: Superintendent Daniel Sjanta, Serbia / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to the Bishop, Zurich
Photo: Danail Ristovski, Skopje/North Macedonia