The shaping of Tek Ura
Tek Ura (registered as Qendra Tek Ura’) was formed in January 2016. The original founders were British Baptist missionaries from BMS World Mission (Rev’d Dan and Annie Dupree, and Mat and Suzanne Gregory) and Pastor Mondi Palucaj (the then President of the Albanian Baptist Union, ‘ABU’)
We shared a mission to reach out to the most marginalised. Tek Ura would, as its name suggests, be a bridging point for divided sections of the community to meet and experience God. Albanian churches (the majority of the ABU) as well as UK church representatives, gathered to commission the ministry of Tek Ura on 10 Mar 2016. Suzanne and Mondi would step down in June 2017, leaving 3 original founders to establish Tek Ura as ‘church, community centre and development charity’.
Rooted in Christian values, our vision is for community transformation in Tirana through holistic ministries. These ministries are broad in scope, covering 5 program areas:
In 2016, there wasn’t a church in Kafja e Rremes. So divided was the community that some people refused to share a meeting room with their neighbours. Part of the underlying reason was intolerance of ethnic diversity and prejudice, and a mistrust of the established church. Today, there is a vibrant, inclusive, worshipping community. All of our members were not in church on joining; many have painful stories; a few have jobs; weekly group meetings exist within an often chaotic personal and community life. In common with many examples of emerging church, we are a values-led church and our simply-stated values are intended to underpin community and missional life. A church emerged from a weekly gathering of men, meeting each week to eat, talk and pray. By 2017, we met as two groups (men, and women and children), gathering each week to wrestle with life and faith, and once a month as a cluster of both groups.
In May 2018, we baptised our first believer, and cell church ‘Komuniteti i Besimit Tek Ura’ was formed, and continues to be led by founding pastor, Dan Dupree. The following year (2 October 2019), the church called Juri Arapi to be the church’s first Albanian co-pastor to work alongside Dan. In 2020, the church continues to grow and witness new life and faith, as people come into relationship with Christ, with more than 40 members, and many more involved in regular church activities. To date, we have extended the number of cells to 4, including an intergenerational cell and youth work.
Since beginning, Tek Ura has hosted pioneer training events for pastors and leaders from across the denominational spectrum. Looking forward, we view progression as including the development of internships, and placement opportunities for student pastors, making a wider contribution to ministerial formation in Albania.By 2024, the church expects to have more than 10 cells and train and equip more Albanian leaders for pioneer ministries.
2. Rehab program
People in Kafja e Rremes have struggled to access rehab and health services, to return to work, and to participate in community life and to be less isolated. In 2017, Annie (a dual-registered physiotherapist), appointed Rexhina Uzuni, an Albanian counterpart, and established a physiotherapy team and rehab clinic offering free services for those unable to pay. Today, these services empower some of the most marginalised groups of people, including children and adults with complex disabilities, offering unique therapy services. Tek Ura also provides health promotion, advocacy advice and support, empowering community members to be able to access healthcare and understand how to live healthily. By 2024, our vision is to expand the size and scope of our therapy services, training and developing Albanian rehab workers. This includes a second rehabilitation clinic that is accessible for people who cannot afford to pay for therapy and access to other therapy services through Tek Ura.
3. Skills program
Our education work (known as our skills program) initially began in 2016 with a preschool pilot called ‘Stay and Play. This provided a safe space for parents and children, many of whom would otherwise be on the streets. In 2017 we began working in partnership with a State school in Tirana to offer English lessons to children who had been referred to us by the Child Protection Unit. The project known as ‘Horizons’ continued to be run at our centre in Kafja e Rremes. In 2020, Albanian teacher Megi Herri took over the coordination of the program from departing Brit, Mat Gregory. Other projects in this program include adult education lessons for Albanians, and a parenting, peer-support project.
In 2020 our skills program is reducing barriers to mainstream education, training and employment for some of the most marginalised people in Tirana. As we look forward to 2024, we are committed to increasing the number of marginalised children who are able to access appropriate mainstream schooling options and supporting state provision for those families requiring additional involvement.
4. Recovery program
The principal aim of our recovery program is to support those in situations of crisis due to economic poverty. Tek Ura has supported thousands of marginalised people with emergency food provisions, wood burning stoves, lighting and other supplies. In 2016, Tek Ura was involved in supporting marginalised families living by a riverbank who were made homeless as a result of extreme flooding. Some of this work involved enabling them to transition back to their homes once the water had subsided. We established a small food project, and crisis relief fund to help those in crisis get back on their feet.
From 2017 we developed community action forums to mobilise local people to help one another and to raise issues with the local authorities. The results of these forums were encouraging, as it was the forum that affected community change and enabled homes to be connected to water, street lighting to be installed, and roads to be fixed and kept clean.
Most recently the focus of our welfare services has shifted from charitable giving to projects that stimulate joint responsibility and welfare to training and/ or employment. From 2018, we’ve worked more closely with the employment services, to connect unemployed people in our areas of the city with vacant jobs. We’ve held job forums, where local residents could speak directly with representatives from the employment office.
The flooding in 2015/16 is an example of a time when a crisis response warranted emergency aid. In 2020, similarly, Tek Ura has responded to COVID-19 with a crisis relief project for those who lost their livelihoods due to the virus. Through the generosity of supporters and partnerships with many individuals, we have been able to feed more than 130 families. People in desperate need. Since the outbreak, 533 people were regularly supported with emergency crisis packages.
5. Connect program
Tek Ura is situated in part of Albania's capital city with the highest density of at risk groups. Within a stones throw of our centre is situated the national refugee facility (for those on the move from other countries), and less than 1km away is the state run ‘Transitory Centre’, a holding centre for homeless people, approx 90% of whom are from Romani / Egyptian heritage. Since 2016, we have sought to promote inclusion and participation, fostering environments where marginalised people of all ages can build friendships with neighbours from different backgrounds. ‘Inclusion’ remains a key value, as we seek to stimulate social cohesion. 5 groups of people in particular have been our focus:
- Older people
- People with disabilities,
- and their carers
- ‘At risk’ children and women, including those with Romani and Egyptian heritage
We continue to work towards the use of our building in Kafja e Rremes as a ‘Community Centre’ , a shared space that is owned by local people. Our desire has always been to connect people, to increase the number of people participating and playing a full part in community life. In 2018 we formed an older person's social group, and a carer support group. These groups bring together people with shared challenges, enabling them to help one another and strengthen their informal networks. We are also increasing social cohesion amongst children and adults from different ethnic groups and backgrounds and combat the causes of exploitation. In 2020, we are supporting young people to connect, engage and share in their communities in varied and creative ways.
A more connected community leaves less space for those who would seek to exploit, through human trafficking and modern slavery. As we move towards 2024, we will place greater focus on enabling local people In Kafja e Rremes to identify trafficking, understand how it affects the community, and learn how to help prevent its continuation. We envision a community centre led by local people, with increased numbers from marginalised people groups empowered to play a role in the community. A safe place that includes, empowers and celebrates lives. A beacon of community, working alongside other agencies, state and local leaders to offer real hope of a prospering community for all, combating the causes of exploitation and separation.