Article | Missions magazine

The Courage to Demonstrate God’s Love | A Ministry Reaches Moms across Albania

May 14, 2024
Miekley

By Bona Miekley

Some of us have the courage to tell the gospel story of what happened 2,000 years ago, yet we are afraid to say what God has done in our lives or what more He might want to do. “I’m just too afraid to think about what happened when I was a girl,” a woman told my husband, Josh, and me recently. In fact, I grew up with that same fear.

More than 20 years ago, I would have been surprised if you had looked me in the eye and said, “Bona, Jesus sees you. He knows you. He loves you.” I believed that Jesus loves all of us. Yet there is something different between that and knowing He loves me.

I’d like to share with you my journey to starting a women’s ministry in Albania—a branch of Mothers of Preschoolers International (MOPS)—and what God has done in the lives of other women. First, let me tell you about my home country, Albania.

Albania, nestled in the Balkans

Albania has a population of more than three million people and carries a unique spiritual climate: About 60 percent of the people adhere to Islam and less than 1 percent identify as evangelical Christians. Traditionally, Albanians were either Muslim, Catholic, or Orthodox. However, after enduring one of the most brutal communist regimes in history, which closed all mosques and churches and prohibited religious observance, the people were not very religious. Today, an Albanian might identify as Muslim but not observe every practice. For example, Albanian Muslim women typically do not cover themselves with a hijab (head scarf).

The leader of Albania’s MOPS for Single Moms describes our country this way: “I have seen communism fall, the transition to democracy, and a civil war in 1997 where anyone could have a gun while there were no military or police active. In between, there was destruction, crime, drugs, and the list goes on and on.” But I’d add that the beauty and warmth in Albanian people are really special.

A growing network

MOPS International, found in 90 countries, unites mothers of young children and helps them realize their potential in relationship with Christ and in partnership with the local church.1 The curriculum emphasizes the Gospel, identity in Christ, and Christian principles for parenting, marriage, and other topics.

MOPS’ unique niche is connecting people in the church with unbelievers—who come into the church for MOPS when they wouldn’t ordinarily attend other services. In Albania, most of the women in MOPS groups come from Muslim backgrounds. In fact, church planters working in Muslim areas started a couple of the groups. Most of the local churches with MOPS groups also offer a women’s Bible study or one-to-one Bible studies.

Through this network, moms in Albania share their joys and struggles and work through those challenges in light of the Gospel. God has used many people and broken down many obstacles to create MOPS Albania.

The lies I believed

In the book Lies Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes, “When God sent His only Son, Jesus, to this earth . . . He declared the value of our soul to be greater than the value of the whole world. . . . Believing a lie will put you in bondage. Believing the Truth will set you free.”2 

For as long as I can remember I believed lies: I didn’t matter. I was too small. I would never be good enough.

My sister and I were born prematurely. The words “you are too small” echo in my ears as far back as I can remember. I remember going to violin lessons in my school uniform—a black jumper and white shirt. I would stand in the music school’s cold, dark corridor, violin in hand. I would place the written exercises on a window sill and practice while I waited for my sister to finish. I had already practiced for hours. Day after day, the teacher would come out and tell me: “Your fingers are too small. You can’t do it.”

Throughout childhood, I lived with the message, “You will never be good enough.” I was afraid of disappointing my parents. I was afraid of my relatives calling me degrading names if I didn’t wear the right clothes or if I put on lipstick. I was just as afraid at church—of disappointing the leaders. And my mom would only let me attend church if I had a good rapport with the leaders.

Even on the day of my baptism, I felt a sense of shame. My sister and I had rushed out of our house, barely escaping a beating from my Muslim cousin, whereas others walked confidently into the church.

Freedom from those lies

Fast-forward to a pivotal moment in my life: an invitation from Jennifer at our church in Chicago. (By this time, I was married to Josh, whom I had met when he was a single missionary in Albania, and we had moved to the US.) When Jennifer spoke, she had a clear, thoughtful, kind voice. She looked me in the eye and said, “I would like to ask you to consider being one of the leaders of the women’s ministry.

What? Me? I thought, the warning sirens blaring in my mind. How can I do this?

Perhaps Jennifer could read the hesitation on my face. “Bona, I see in you a compassionate heart,” she continued. “You have what it takes to love moms.”

As I began to think and pray about this request, many doubts came to my mind. You see, I was an outsider there. I had just moved from Albania. The other women had grown up in the US. I had grown up in a communist regime. I was from a poor country but was attending church in one of the richest places in America. Many of the women there had earned all sorts of degrees. And me? Albania’s 1997 civil war had interrupted my first chance to enter university. The second time, I gave up multiple scholarships so Josh and I could pursue a dream of serving in Kosovo. Perhaps, most importantly, I felt bankrupt emotionally as a young mom. I had other questions too: How will I fit in socially? Will I be able to serve in the same capacity as when I worked in Albania or Kosovo? Or will English limit me? What will happen if I make a mistake in English?

Josh and I prayed about it, I said yes, and the experience of leading this group was powerful—so powerful that when we returned to Albania, my passion was to introduce Mothers of Preschoolers in Albania. God enabled me to do just that in 2013.

MOPS Albania

I had one person at my side from the beginning: my cousin Blerta. In the early days, Blerta prepared the venue, food, games, and crafts. With Blerta, I was like a woman with a vision and a wedding agency behind her!

I remember standing up at the first MOPS meeting to tell my story. Many of us shared some experiences: buying food with ration cards; waiting in long lines for bread and other food, sometimes for hours; marking our place in line with a rock when we had to leave; and returning to see where we were compared to the stones others had left. Most of us had experienced the end of the communist regime and the chaotic transition to democracy.

But we were also each unique. None of these women had grown up in my family. Some had grown up with more affirmation; sadly, some with more abuse. We each had different stories of pain and challenges and how God had shown up.

I told the women about the day a woman from MOPS, Heather, had come to my rescue. While living in the US, I had rushed our son, Ben, to the hospital for a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. I felt terrified and guilty. Heather brought me flowers, Ben’s diapers, and everything I 

needed. When she left, she reassured me with words I’ll never forget: “Dear, I’m only a phone call away.”

As I told this story, I saw tears coming down the cheeks of a woman who looked about my age. Her name was Valmira, and she later told me, “I was so touched by Heather’s kindness to you.”

New groups

A few years later, Valmira entered a store and ran into Vera, another mother she had known for years through their children’s day care. Vera’s daughter had autism and suffered from a tumor. That day, Vera saw that Valmira was wearing earrings that weren’t from Albania.

“Where did you get those?” she asked. Valmira told her they were from Uganda and explained the Mothers of Preschoolers ministry and the connection with MOPS in that country. Vera started attending MOPS, and she came to Christ. Vera said, “MOPS was the bridge between God and me. MOPS made me realize that I am a beloved child of God, that I am not alone, but He is always there for me.”

A few months later, Valmira and Vera started MOPS for Moms of Children with Special Needs. For many women who have been shunned in the past, this group has become a place of belonging where they and their kids are celebrated. It is one of the fastest-growing groups.

Developments and goals

That has been the story of MOPS Albania—one life touching another, one woman’s story touching another, and the Gospel going forth. MOPS came to Albania in 2013. The groups branched into other towns. Today, hundreds of women are involved. This year, we started in two new towns.

One of our 2024 goals is for each leader to have a coleader. The solo leaders, especially outside the capital city, are like church planters, working among unchurched women, planning activities, making connections, and with great courage, enabling the light of Christ to shine in dark places.

As I think about women like Vera, Valmira, and so many others, I long for them to increasingly walk in the truth that sets us free and to believe what God says is true about each of us: you are seen; you are known; you are loved (Luke 12:6–7, Isaiah 40:26–29). 

Bona and Josh Miekley are commended from Northern Hills Bible Chapel in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Originally published in Missions magazine, May 2024. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at CMML.us/magazine/subscribe