Sustainable Development
January 24, 2023

On the 11th of April, 1985, the communist dictator Enver Hoxha breathed his last. It was the beginning of the end of communist Albania. After 40 years of being isolated from almost the entire world, the Albanian people started to see what life really looked like outside their borders. It took a number of years and the student revolutions in 1989 to put the final nail in the coffin and open the doors for the first multi-party elections in 1991. 

On the 11th of November, 1991, the former German police officer Arnold Geiger and countless others crossed the border into Albania with truck after truck loaded with relief supplies for the Albanian people. On a prior visit to Albania, Arnold was part of a mission trip that went to share the gospel with people in what had been proclaimed in 1967 as the world’s first atheist state. After that first trip, however, Arnold “quickly saw that relief aid distribution was not enough. People needed hope, opportunity and role models.”1 So he returned again, and started an organization which today is known as Nehemiah Gateway (NG).

Now, over 30 years later, Nehemiah Gateway has provided just that; hope, opportunity, and role models. Aptly named for the leader of post-exilic Israel, Nehemiah Gateway’s vision is simple: To love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, and learn to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Coming from Matthew 22, the vision statement of Nehemiah Gateway (NG) is an obvious one for anyone involved in ministry. However, what stands out about the approach that NG took lies in the mission statement: “Helping and empowering people to sustainably shape and determine their lives in dignity and independence.” While many people likely flooded into Albania when the borders opened in 1991 with the hopes of starting churches and distributing Bibles, NG took a broader approach.

The reasoning behind this is beautifully stated in a video published on the Nehemiah Gateway YouTube channel; “When there are people without the basic elements of survival, it’s very difficult to have a conversation about spiritual salvation.”

While NG did plant a church early in their existence, it is far from their primary focus. They understood that despite the hunger in the Albanians to hear about the Gospel – and many other things they had been isolated from during the communist era – there was lots of other work to be done.

I would argue that this method was instrumental in the longevity and sustainability that Nehemiah Gateway has seen over the last three decades. This might appear as blasphemy coming from someone who holds a bachelor’s degree in Community Development from Covenant College. I can still remember sitting in the classroom in the basement of Brock Hall, over 10 years ago, and listening to my professors emphasizing over and over that if we weren’t telling people about Jesus, we weren’t doing successful community development.

One of the beautiful parts of the work that Nehemiah Gateway has done since 1991 is being able to adapt and morph depending on what is needed in the community. Extreme poverty is still prevalent in Albania, and because of this NG has had a steady Social and Medical Improvement project since the beginning; basic medical help to those who can’t afford it, an occasional delivery of food or firewood. In 1998, there was need for quality education in Albania. So, Nehemiah Gateway founded a private school. In 2008, Nehemiah Gateway University was founded. When a need arises, NG finds a way to adapt and help.

Don’t misunderstand this as me saying that the Gospel, and churches, are unimportant. In fact, it was the Gospel that led Arnold Geiger to get this entire project going in the first place. It was the desire to show the Albanian people the love of Jesus that drove him to move his family from the comforts of Germany to poverty-stricken Albania.

I’ve heard story after story of church-planting missionaries from around the world burning out because no one comes to their church. No one is getting baptized or accepting Christ. And yet here in southeastern Albania we have had lives being changed and transformed over the last 30 years, with no end in sight.

In my four and a half years working with this organization, and a handful of conversations with Arnold, it has become apparent that the key to all of this is to be coming alongside the people. Meeting them where they are and helping them without expecting anything in return – following the example of Jesus. What tends to happen is people give what they have; respect, trust, and allegiance.

James Leithart is a photographer and filmmaker living in Albania, and working with Nehemiah Gateway ( He works in marketing at the NG Albania office, and also as the Communications Director for NG USA.

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