Three countries - one mission mandate

This year's gathering of the Annual Conference Serbia-North Macedonia-Albania took place in Monospitovo (North Macedonia) from April 4 to 7, 2024.
When Annual Conference members from three countries meet, a great diversity becomes visible and tangible. This diversity can be seen as "great added value and offers many opportunities", as Simone Viljoen, guest delegate from Austria, puts it. However, diversity is also a challenge, as the people in the three districts speak different languages, for example, which is why a considerable amount of translation work has to be done. "All discussions, presentations and sermons had to be translated from Albanian/Macedonian/Serbian into English and then into all other languages," says Simone Viljoen. According to her observations, the linguistic differences not only made the discussions more difficult, but also had the potential for misunderstandings. However, Bishop Stefan Zürcher is convinced that progress has been made in this area compared to previous years. The increasing mutual understanding of the situation and the associated growing patience played an important role in this. The fact that a lot of work was done in group discussions proved to be very helpful, especially in view of the great diversity, as it offered the individuals much more opportunity to participate than discussions in plenary sessions would have done.
However, the three districts also have things in common. Simone Viljoen points out a particularly difficult issue: that of migration. "Young people migrate to wealthier EU countries in order to lead a life with more opportunities than they have in their home countries. This means that there is a huge shortage of people to carry out social tasks such as caring for the elderly or supporting people with special needs, and local churches can feel the strain." There has been a lot of talk about this, but no real solution has been found, and it remains an "issue of hopelessness".
Commonalities with potential for mutual encouragement and support as well as mutual learning are also activities with children, youth, or women. Or the diaconal initiatives that provide very targeted and effective help for many people: the weekend soup kitchen in Vrbas (Serbia), for example, the Diakonia Center in Pogradec (Albania), the Early Intervention Center in Tirana (Albania), or the Miss Stone Center in Strumica (North Macedonia). These are initiatives "that are very successful in their work and could easily expand if there were sufficient resources," Simone Viljoen notes thoughtfully. However, finding more resources and staff is precisely what is difficult.
What unites them, however, is the foundation of the Church - and its mission, which was also the theme of the conference: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations". It proved to be a topic that led to many a lively discussion about what it means in the present to speak of faith, to live faith and to call people to faith. Superintendent Wilfried Nausner also referred to this in his report: "Christ commands us clearly to do something that is not in our hands. How shall we respond if we cannot do what He calls us to do? Could it be that we need to discover the Spirit of God already at work in unexpected and unlikely places?" At the Annual Conference in 2025, an entire theme day will be dedicated to the issues of mission and evangelism.
Another topic that concerns the Church in all three districts is the question of how people can be called, empowered, and commissioned to serve others - especially in full-time ordained ministry. Against this background, it was very joyful that two men from Albania, Gjergj Lushka and Florian Çela, became members in full connection to the Annual Conference. They are to be ordained as elders in Pogradec (Albania) in September 2024. And it was an important sign of appreciation that, after decades of service full of love and dedication at the Miss Stone Center in Strumica (North Macedonia), Mitko Konev was publicly thanked and celebrated on the occasion of his retirement.
"We love by serving others." This is how Superintendent Wilfried Nausner put it. And he continued: "Our service shall bring light into the darkness of this world. It is about a life of hope and prayer, about a future in fellowship with God and real life."
Sources: Simone Viljoen, Vienna (Austria) / Bishop Stefan Zürcher, Zurich (Switzerland) / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to the Bishop, Zurich (Switzerland)