Faith and football: a winning combination in Albania
A team reading a Bible passage before a match. (Photo by Altin Serani)
A football tournament organised by the Bible Society of Albania and its partners is bringing together churches from different denominations and getting hundreds of young people to read the Bible.
As evening falls over Tirana, Albania’s capital city, two groups of young men stand quietly on a football pitch, heads bowed solemnly as they read Scripture. They take it in turns to read a verse out loud and when they have read the passage, they pray together.
A few minutes later, the scene is transformed: the whistle blows and the football match begins, energetic young men running and shouting to each other and the spectators cheering and whistling.
Pre-match Bible reading (Photo by Altin Serani)
This match is just one of many being played in Tirana and other towns as part of ‘The Living Word Football Tournament’, organised by the Bible Society of Albania, its church partners and the International Federation of Evangelical Students (IFES). Their aim is to use sport to take the Bible’s message to a generation of Albanians who are no longer interested in Christianity.
“Here in Albania, as in many other countries, churches are struggling to get young people involved in church life and are needing to think creatively and strategically about how to attract them,” notes Gjergj Ndoci of the Bible Society. “We have found that sport is a powerful tool for getting young Albanians interested in the Bible and back to church.”
The tournament is certainly proving popular: Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic churches are fielding 16 teams, involving 160 players. Not all of them are from Christian backgrounds – some have no faith, some have recently converted from Islam, and others are still nominal Muslims.
“These young men have been invited to take part in this tournament by the team leaders in the hope that they will enjoy it and be touched by the warm fellowship and by the Bible passages they read before each match,” explains Mr Ndoci.
Shooting for goal! (Photo by Altin Serani)
The players are supported by hundreds of spectators, who not only turn up to watch the matches but also talk about it on social media. ‘The Living World Football Tournament’ Facebook group has nearly 200 members who encourage one another and share match updates and photos of the teams in action.
“It has been a great pleasure and honour to take part in this tournament,” writes Altin Serani, a player in one of the teams which made it through to the semi-finals. “I strongly believe that everyone who has participated has grown in a very positive way, learnt about their strengths and weaknesses and been encouraged by God’s Word. God bless you!”
Aliko Murataj, another player, commented: “Praise the Lord that this sporting activity has helped to bring new people to God.”
Booklet of John’s Gospel
Families and friends of the players turn out to support the matches. (Photo by Altin Serani)
“It has been so encouraging to see this community of sports enthusiasts – both players and spectators – really embracing both the football matches and the Bible-reading element,” says Mr Ndoci. “At the very start of the tournament, each player received a booklet of John’s Gospel. And each week, the teams are given a Bible passage to read together before their match, and which they are encouraged to meditate on during the week.
“We have been very impressed at how committed they are to the matches themselves and to the Bible readings. Whichever players we talk to, whatever their church or faith backgrounds, they all tell us how thrilled they are to be part of this tournament and to be playing football together. It is a proving a great tool to promote Christian unity.”
The Living Word Football Tournament kicked off in late April. The final match was held on May 23. The Bible Society hopes to make this an annual event – please pray for God’s blessings on this important initiative
Starting the final match…
People gathered to read the Bible passage and watching the final match.