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Finding Life at Jeta

Finding Life at Jeta

THE CALL: FALL/WINTER 2022    |    9.5 MINUTE READ
KATELAND VERNON, STAFF WRITER   |   CALEB HATFIELD, PHOTOGRAPHER


The children of Vlashaj are far from shy. We’ve only just met them, yet they’re gathered in a circle around us and are chattering up a storm. “What’s your favorite color?” they ask us, then, “Favorite animal?” Later, they want us to take turns guessing their favorites.

Children jumping up and down and laughing while playing a game inside a soccer complex

The children in the village love spending time in the ministry center.

It makes sense that they’re comfortable with WGM missionary Tiffany Janofski. Of course they rush to greet her and cling to her; after all, she’s lived here in the village for four years now.

But Laura Needler and I (members of the support staff at WGM headquarters) are still getting used to the famous Albanian hospitality that lets these children draw Laura and me into their circle, setting us instantly at ease in a country we arrived in only hours earlier.

As we stand outside with them, waiting for church to start, other missionaries from WGM and Planters, a partner organization of ours, set up inside the newly finished ministry center while Ellie Waggoner, the daughter of one of the missionary couples, tunes her guitar for worship. The center is full of life, as we will see during the entire week of our visit, and I’m struck by how fitting the building’s name is: Jeta, which means “the life” in Albanian.

a ministry center with a handicap accessible van parked in front

Jeta, the ministry center in Vlashaj, was finished in 2022.

Jeta (pronounced “yay-tah”) is stunning. It’s a handicap-accessible, two-story building with classrooms, locker rooms, a rooftop terrace, and a fully furnished kitchen and gym. It also has space dedicated to VT Albania, a ministry that serves people with disabilities through physical therapy, tutoring, and social outings; a breath of fresh air in a community that is ill-equipped to meet these special needs.


The new building, which was finished in 2022, is a hive of activity with several programs taking advantage of the space:

  • Soccer programs for children, including for girls, who are offered few such opportunities in a majority Muslim culture
  • Food and clothing distribution
  • After-school tutoring
  • VT Albania, which provides education, physical therapy, and community for people with disabilities
  • Workout classes for anyone in the community
  • Women’s Bible studies
  • Church services
  • Kids’ Club
  • Community space available to anyone, including a playground and basketball court in a district that has zero public parks

It wouldn’t be surprising to find a building like this in Tirana, the nearby capital city. But here in Vlashaj, a tiny village in the middle of the country? It definitely stands out against the homes that surround it. I can already tell, though, that jeta—life—was here long before this building’s foundation was poured in 2019.

David and Sarah vanOrman moved to Albania in 1993 and started Planters Seed Foundation—a ministry that shares agricultural advice and seeds as well as the Gospel—in 1995. When they moved to Vlashaj in 1999, the villagers were friendly, but it took many years to earn their deeper trust.

Women sit and talk inside a ministry center

Relationships are built and deepened at Jeta.

This isn’t surprising, especially for those who had lived through the rule of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha from 1941–1985. Many people remembered the way neighbor had turned against neighbor and how even family members had spied on each other. Albania as a whole is still rebuilding the trust that was broken during that era.

Once the vanOrmans gained the villagers’ trust, they dreamt of a ministry center in Vlashaj where anyone in the community could gather. They prayed that this building would be the presence of Christ in the village.

Jeta is simply the physical declaration of the message David and Sarah had been telling the community for decades: God sees your value. Their voices were gradually joined by many others, including a handful of WGM global workers: Nathan and Cydil Waggoner (Cydil is David and Sarah’s daughter), Tiffany, and Luis and Laura Acosta.

A pastor holds up a water bottle as a sermon illustration while his wife helps him translate his message to the congregation

Pastor Genti and Shpresa Proseku speak during Jeta's dedication service in April 2022.

Genti and Shpresa Proseku have played a pastoral role with Planters in Vlashaj since 2005, and Genti is also the pastor for the church that meets on Friday nights at Jeta. During the ministry center’s dedication service, Pastor Genti made a profound connection. Jeta, he pointed out, is only one letter removed from gjeta, or “found.” The staff’s prayer is that everyone who enters the building will find life.

That’s what happened for Luli Mustafaj, a young man who started coming to the previous version of the center as a child.

“Albanian moms kick you out of the house because they’ve got to clean,” Luli said. “So the village kids would go out in the street or somewhere, and there was nowhere else to come except the center, which was the first place we’d go to.”

A man smiles while sitting in a soccer complex

Luli's relationship with Christ began at Jeta.

Through the center’s ministry, Luli found a relationship with Jesus and was baptized in 2017. He stuck around the center, serving wherever he could. In August 2022, he officially became a WGM global worker, managing the Jeta facility.

Luli would have been one of the kids who pepper us with questions outside the new building: friendly, warm, mischievous. As I scan their faces, I wonder, Will one of these children someday teach Kids’ Club or lead the soccer program?

Luli often wonders the same thing: “My heart (is) for not just the village. We’re talking about communities that are around the village. I want for them to know about God and hear about Him and—why not?—be the next Luli.”

ACTION STEPS

PRAY: Ask the Lord to continue the work He has started in Vlashaj. Pray for those who have been transformed to draw others to Christ, and pray that other members of the village will realize their value and find the abundant life He has in store for each of them.

GIVE: The ministry of Jeta has been enhanced by a gifted team of international missionaries including Luis and Laura Acosta and Luli Mustafaj. Raising a team of financial partners is difficult because of their unique contexts, and visa requirements for the Acostas mean they must remain on volunteer status and thus cannot work traditional jobs in Albania. Consider supporting these faithful brothers and sisters who have committed their lives to serving the Lord in Albania. Click here for more information.

GO: Feel called to work with children or individuals with disabilities? The missionaries in Vlashaj would love to host volunteers or teams to help run an inclusive summer camp in July 2023. These camps break down barriers surrounding disability and expand Jeta’s reach into surrounding villages. Click here to see how you can help.


Missionary Bios:
A husband and wife smiling with their teenage son and daughter Nathan and Cydil Waggoner served as directors of WGM’s Student Involvement Center at Asbury University for thirteen years before becoming global workers in Albania, where they have lived and served with their two children, Ellie and Reni, since 2013.
A young woman smiles Tiffany Janofski has served in Albania since 2018 and as the director of VT since 2020. She is passionate about discipleship, building relationships, and walking with individuals to find their value and identity as children of God.
A husband and wife smiling with their elementary-aged daughters Luis and Laura Acosta began their missions journey in 2012 in Guinea Bissau, Africa, followed by four years leading a soccer club for the blind in Turkey. They joined the WGM team in Albania in 2022 and are excited to see how God uses their passion for sports and education to further His kingdom.
A young man smiles Lulzim “Luli” Mustafaj grew up in a Muslim home. His family moved to Vlashaj when he was young, and he learned about Jesus through the center’s ministry. He joined WGM as a global worker in August 2022 and now manages the Jeta facility.


The Call (Fall/Winter 2022)

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