God introduced himself into one young girl’s life, and now as she becomes a young adult, she’s seeing how the road he’s set her on is a unique blessing.
Juli grew up in Iba village, near Albania’s capital Tirana. She was introduced to church and a children’s club run by World Challenge’s partner as a little girl. A very shy and reserved child, she still came every week with a friend.
The kindness and love she experienced in this environment kept her coming back week after week and helped her grow in confidence. As she learned about the Word of God, Juli’s poise and assurance became more and more noteworthy, and she began to pursue music as others called out her clear talent in that area. She learned how to play the guitar, and soon music became her passion.
As she passed her 13th birthday, many of Juli’s peers were getting into trouble with smoking and bullying. Of course, friends and acquaintances pressured her to join in sampling drugs and cruel mischief against others, but she held back, often remembering the wisdom she’d learned in Proverbs.
“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent…. my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.” (Proverbs 1:10, 15-16, ESV).
Life Inside and Outside School
Many Roma children can often be seen working or helping their parents at very young ages around their villages.
Cultural prejudices against the Roma run deep and cut both ways as ethnic majority Albanians frequently push Roma out of schools but then censure them for being undereducated and Roma families have few resources to help their children succeed academically but also often don’t encourage the next generation to prioritize education.
A few years ago, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) noted, “According to a UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] survey, about 52% of Roma have no education, 18% attended just a few years of elementary school and only 14% managed to complete elementary school; only 3% of the Romani respondents had graduated secondary school and only 4% graduated from college or university.”
The Borgen Project, in its own analysis, added, “Because of the lack of education, many Romani are not eligible to access employment which further contributes to their poverty.”
These statistical observations are more dismal for girls and women in the community who are expected to marry very young—being wed as young as 13 or 14 is not unheard of—and care for their children. World Challenge’s partners have recognized that one way to show real love to the Roma community has been helping children and their families achieve higher education.
Much of this comes hand in hand with learning to read scripture, counseling with parents and caring for children as they wrestle with serious problems of discrimination in school and how to overcome.
The Road Up and Onward
Today, Juli believes that the support of the church and the Bible’s wisdom is the reason her life took a very different direction than many of the teens with whom she grew up.
Participation in the children’s meeting and every activity organized by the church played an active and regular role in her life. She was encouraged and supported to continue further studies, even if it meant leaving the little village of Iba and traveling into the capital.
It is not easy for a small-town girl to go and study music in the middle of her country’s largest city.
Despite all the challenges, though, she is attending high school at the Artistic Lyceum for music. It is a dream come true for her, and she hopes to be part of the worship group in her church, leading her community in worship of the Father who has redeemed and protected her.
“This gives me joy and courage to move forward,” she said. “God has promised to be always with us, and His plans remain unchanged.”
World Challenge’s partners are finding that more and more teens like Juli are interested in learning about the Bible, and the hunger for God’s Word extends far beyond their base of operations. Meanwhile, they are looking for more volunteers to go to Juli’s hometown, Iba, to reach the youth. Please join us in praying for Juli, the team who is working to spread the gospel and the next generation in Albania who are longing to see God in their lives.