*Image above of mosque in Prizren, Kosovo
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36–38
Recently, I spoke with Warren Stewart, ANM’s Central Asia regional director, about his time in the Balkan nation of Kosovo. He referenced the passage above to describe the lack of effective missionary work in this Muslim-majority country in southeastern Europe. According to Warren, “No one is lining up to go to Kosovo” as a missionary. The small evangelical church in Kosovo dates only from the end of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Warren’s visit focused first on sports outreach in Prizren, the country’s second-largest city, and then on evangelistic efforts to Turkish-speaking Kosovars in the smaller surrounding towns and villages. Many of these nearby places are entirely Turkish in population, language, and culture. Even the business and street signs are in Turkish, not Albanian (the predominant language of Kosovo). The village outreach was led by a Muslim-background church team from Turkey and an indigenous mission team based in Cyprus. All were native Turkish speakers.
Why do some Kosovars speak Turkish?
Turkish-speaking Kosovars date from the 500 years of rule by the Ottoman Empire beginning in the late 14th century. The majority of Kosovars are Albanian in ethnicity and language. There are churches in the larger cities made up of Albanian Kosovars and internationals, but few church plantings have even been attempted among the 17,000 Kosovo Turks. Like almost all Turkish-speaking peoples, the Kosovo Turks are a completely unreached people group.
Therefore, the two native mission teams were breaking new ground for a pioneer church-planting movement in Kosovo.
Why do the missionary teams speak Turkish?
Warren explained that if the church teams had come from North America, they would have required an interpreter and a great deal of explanation about the culture of Turkish-speaking people. He would have needed to lay out a long-range plan for the outreach, including expected end results. As it was, Warren only had to introduce the two teams to local people in the most natural of contexts, such as coffee shops and cafés. The teams from Turkey and Cyprus knew immediately and intuitively how to engage with the local people.
Warren told me, “I didn’t say another word. When [the team members] got out of the car, they started talking to people. Then they went to the café. They were speaking in Turkish. They were asking [the local people] all kinds of questions, [and then] they became friends. They were passing phone numbers with each other, [and] they were [sharing] their [social media] accounts.”
The power of engaging the unreached through native missionaries
Warren further said there is power in starting ministry through indigenous groups related to each other because they don’t need to build a foundation first. The cultural and language base is already there. When Warren asked the Turkish pastor if he would agree to bring a team to Kosovo, the pastor simply replied, “Yes, brother, let’s do this!” He didn’t ask Warren what his team needed to do because he already knew how to engage other Turkish speakers.
The seeds of next-level missions are planted
Personal relationships between Turkish and Cypriot (from Cyprus) Christians and Kosovo Turks were formed and are ongoing. Before the teams left Kosovo, Warren introduced the Turkish pastor to Albanian Christian leaders. Since the mission trip, those Albanian leaders have traveled to Turkey and met with the pastor. The two groups have formed a Gospel partnership to evangelize among Kosovar Turks. This partnership, requiring little to no input from Warren, is significant because it demonstrates the catalytic effect of indigenous groups cooperating for the Gospel’s advancement.
The Turkish pastor has committed to forming a long-term church planting team to be sent to Kosovo with the cooperation of the Albanian church leadership. This is exactly what Warren was looking for and praying for when he planned the summer outreach.
Warren describes this kind of catalytic cooperation as “next level” missions. The power of indigenous missions is to support indigenous workers, enabling them to reach out to other native missionaries and create working relationships. That approach is light years ahead of anything that foreigners could do on their own.