“All dressed up, no place to go,” is what Aneli* felt after she had arrived in Albania. She had come from Mexico to work as a physiotherapist and was excited to serve people with special needs in Albania. However, when the coronavirus came and messed up original ministry plans, it left her feeling unable to use her God-given abilities to serve in her new country. What is a new overseas Christian worker to do when her work seems to be nonexistent, stripped away from her?
Growing up in Mexico, Aneli was not really interested in having a personal relationship with God—going to church on Sundays was enough. After a while, she stopped going to church altogether and started living life her own way. When Aneli was 18, a friend insisted that she go on a week-long mission trip to northern Mexico, and Aneli reluctantly went. When filming a drama during an outreach in a park, she found herself strongly identifying with the story line. When the team shared the gospel afterwards, Aneli welcomed Jesus into her life!
Aneli finished her studies and began working as a physiotherapist. From time to time, she found herself thinking about the promise she had made to God to serve Him through this profession. In 2018, Aneli heard that OM needed physiotherapists in Albania, a country she knew nothing about. Although it was not easy to simply give up her job, move out of her apartment and leave her family, God was with her every step of the way. In August 2019, she stepped onto the soil of Albania for the first time.
Albania is a beautiful nation but struggles economically as one of the poorest countries in Europe. The economic challenges massively impact the medical system. Many Albanians with disabilities need therapy but do not have easy or affordable access to it. OM in Albania works with children who suffer physical and/or mental disabilities in a residential state centre, as well as those living at home with their families. Besides sharing Jesus’ love through visiting the families and doing interactive programmes with the children, the team provides help in education, development and practical aid. They also desire to provide physiotherapy to those who particularly need it.
On 26 November, 2019, a significant earthquake, registering 6.4 on the Richter scale, hit Albania. This incident and other factors caused a slow start for Aneli to use her therapy skills. Then the coronavirus pandemic arrived—and subsequent lockdown; it seemed as though Aneli was experiencing crisis after crisis. She was stuck in her seventh-floor apartment, involved in online training, but thinking: “I know that my supporters are giving money to keep me here, and I’m just…in my house… My commitment was for doing ministry, and now I’m not doing anything.” She wondered if she should go back home. After being in contact with her pastor in Mexico and with others, she felt better about staying, and God provided the needed support. But, what should she do?
The pandemic had temporarily paused Aneli’s plans to help children with disabilities in the community, as the risk of passing on the disease to this vulnerable group of people was too high. However, Aneli was able to focus on doing therapy with local believers, such as Debora*, a passionate Jesus follower working with a local church and who has served in OM’s ministry to people with special needs. Debora had suffered an accident when she was 6 years old when a heavy piece of furniture fell on her body, leaving her leg severely broken. She had motivated herself to walk again, but without good medical advice, she did not learn how to walk properly. Debora needed therapy but could not afford it. As Aneli had unexpectedly become available through the challenges of coronavirus, she was now able to support Debora and other local Christians.
Week after week during the pandemic, Aneli has worked with Debora, giving her different exercises to do and explaining why she should do them. And it is paying off! Debora’s parents and others have commented on her improvement in walking, and Aneli also sees the difference. If it had not been for coronavirus, Aneli may not have focused so much on this precious lady, pouring out Jesus’ love to one who had needed good physiotherapy for a long time. Debora gratefully says: “This is a miracle for me—it is the biggest need I have. Aneli is a miracle from the Lord.”
As Aneli helps people through her God-given gift, she hopes to offer them not only physical support, but emotional and spiritual encouragement. The love that she saw in Jesus is the love that compels her to help anyone who God brings in her path. Although the first season in full-time Christian service looked different to what she would have expected with all the crises that took place, Aneli feels that her faith grew during this pandemic. “God was taking care of things I couldn’t control… I can just see how God is providing everything I need,” she explains. “He had a purpose in everything. [It might be] Plan B for us, but maybe Plan A for God!”
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (ESV)
Abby Doda worked for two and a half years on OM's ship Doulos before serving in Southern Africa for over six years. In 2017, Abby joined the team in Albania, where she is involved with several ministries, including the area of communications.