We expect church planters to have teaching ability, upright character, and solid doctrine, but do we equally value simple, Jesus-imitating kindness? We should, for out of the fertile soil of Christlikeness, good pastors nurture relationships that grow into fruitful ministry.
For Albanian Acts 29 church planter, Andi Dina, kind friends pointed him to Jesus, and now, his desire to be like Jesus shapes his love and vision for the local church. He’s building relationships of kindness with smaller churches in his post-communist culture. He longs for the Christlikeness of local churches—so different from communism’s harsh authoritarianism—to adorn their gospel proclamation.
From Despair to Devotion
Andi was 21 when he first heard about Christ. “But,” he says, “my story starts earlier.”
Andi grew up in a nominally Muslim family during Albania’s atheist dictatorship and communism’s fall. His dream of becoming a professional soccer player ended with the 1997 national conflict. Then, during a high school trip, Andi watched as his good friend playfully jumped into coastal water and hit his head on a rock, becoming paralyzed for life. “I started to hate everything—life, authority, teachers, God,” Andi says. He made it to university but was failing exams and getting drunk.
During this time, a Christian friend began talking with Andi about Jesus. He gave Andi a New Testament. The first time Andi opened it, the pages fell open at Romans 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Andi thought this book is incredible. It’s not a normal book because it’s speaking about me; it knows what I’m like.
“I believe God used that verse to open my heart,” Andi says. “I was emptying bottles of alcohol but becoming even emptier inside. I didn’t have joy or peace and no righteousness at all. I hated everything.” Andi cried to God, “If you are somewhere, do something because my life is a mess.”
Two friends invited Andi to church. At first he refused, but they kept asking so he finally agreed to go. The small house church sang Albanian songs he could understand. As he hungrily read God’s Word, the Spirit opened Andi’s eyes to the gospel. God saved him, and his love for the local church sprouted. He and Vilma, the first person he met at church, began to gather with other Christian students to pray and share the gospel. Andi and Vilma eventually married and served this church in Tirana for 13 years.
The Fruit of Relational Kindness
Andi and Vilma zealously served their church, but the situation became unhealthy in their life and ministry. Eventually they burned out. Andi says this was “mainly because of the many works of ministry and a lack of resting and delighting in Christ.” The culture of the church at the time also lacked a vision for sending and planting autonomous, healthy churches, something that Andi and Vilma longed to see happen in their city.
“During this period of depression,” Andi says, “God gave us a strong desire for a community church where members were lovingly shepherded.” They envisioned a gospel-centered church with sound theology and a kingdom mindset. They began to think that if they wanted that kind of church, they should plant it. Andi had been reading a Christian blog, “Leadership from the Heart,” and decided to ask the author, Dave, for guidance about church planting. He introduced Andi to Acts 29.
Soon after, Philip Moore (Acts 29’s Europe network director) contacted him and traveled to Albania to meet Andi, Vilma, and their four children. Philip’s willingness to come all that way to meet and encourage them struck Andi and Vilma. They were further impressed by the gospel kindness of Acts 29 pastors in Italy, who also connected with them.
Through Acts 29 assessment—even being initially told to wait—Andi and Vilma grew in the Lord and enjoyed the generous kindness of network pastors and churches. When Andi’s mother suffered a near-fatal accident and had to travel to Italy for surgery, Acts 29 brothers visited them at the hospital.
Nurturing Kindness for Kingdom Growth
Andi hopes that the church they planted in Tirana, Albania can do the same things Acts 29 did for them for other churches in Kosovo, Macedonia, and neighboring countries.
The Light Church, a small body of about 20 people, recently opened a community center to be a church gathering space and a means of serving their city. “We’ve been served by others, and that’s created a culture of eagerness to serve. We’ve been supported, and now we’re asking our church to embrace smaller churches, to give from our offerings to these struggling churches and pastors.” In this posture, The Light Church partners with Acts 29 in Italy, Turkey, and the US, and with Church in Hard Places.
Andi says Albanian culture “still suffers from domineering leadership—in politics, life, business, and churches.” So he’s grateful for two missionary families in their leadership group. He’s convinced that “pursuing a true plurality of elders in leadership is a cure for the church in every post-communist culture.”
“We’re praying for a network of healthy churches that plant other healthy churches and multiply other healthy leaders,” Andi says. “I believe there’s no better way to invest our lives than in seeing other pastors and leaders grow up who are different from the communist mindset and who develop a gospel culture.”
Christlike kindness is beautifully distinct. It feeds evangelism, spiritual growth, and fruitful ministry. Andi says, “We want to live, serve, and work in a way that makes people ask, ‘Why are you serving us? Why do you love us?’ This is what needs to happen more and more—that we become like Jesus. This is how we’ll grow his kingdom in Albania.”
Written by: Amy Tyson