Abby Kitchener | Albania
Whitney Peck has come a long way from the place she called home—a small town in Kansas, USA. Her life journey to knowing God and His love began at a very young age as she was adopted into a Christian family at five weeks old. She’d never thought that as a young adult, she would be sharing her passion for worshipping God through music with others in Albania.
Growing up, Whitney was known as “the Christian girl” who always went to church. A pivotal moment in her spiritual life came while in high school, during a mission trip to South Korea with her mom. There they worked in an orphanage that had dozens of similar-dressed babies in a small room. It hit her that she was not only chosen by her adopted parents, but also by God to be His child. “I am an individual,” she recalled her realisation. “He loves me for me.”
Whitney smiles, remembering the shirt her mom gave her at the end of the outreach that held the two powerful words: “Adopted twice”. “Because of this mission trip, I saw God for more than just who we sang to on Sundays. He was more than just a god—more than a religion.”
As an adolescent, Whitney read several missions books, loving the idea of encountering different cultures. She also always loved singing and music. In her last year of high school, Whitney went to Brazil on another outreach. At a worship service with Brazilians singing in Portuguese and the outreach team singing in English, she had a life-shaping realisation that they were all singing the same songs to the same God. It did not need translation. “You can find joy in music even if you don’t understand the words,” she recalled. “Music brings people together.”
During a class in her last year of university where she studied music, Whitney saw a video from Heart Sounds International, an OM ministry focused on music, arts and media. Within 15 minutes after the class ended, she had applied for two years with OM. Shortly after graduation, the young musician found herself in Albania, a country she had previously not even heard of.
While living in an Albanian village for a year, Whitney saw first-hand how some small churches struggle with the musical aspect of worship. Since Albania came out of communism only in the early ‘90’s, the country does not have a long history of Christian songs. English worship songs have been translated, though they do not always correspond well with the Albanian language and have been interpreted differently amongst churches.
“I believe there would be more connection within churches if they could come together and sing the same worship songs as one body,” said Whitney. The young musician saw the need to teach music so that the churches could be more vibrant. She now teaches song writing to local Christians so that the Albanian heart is reflected in their worship.
Using her skills of playing the piano and singing, Whitney started teaching in 2019 at a worship school in Tirana, Albania’s capital city. Here, she works alongside local Albanians who share the same passion and started the school three years ago. Together they focus on biblical worship and also on teaching the practical musical side of worship to musicians, aspiring musicians and worship leaders.
The 28 students she taught in 2019 were more responsive than expected. “They were hungry to learn just as much as we were excited to teach,” remembered Whitney. The staff started organising worship nights every month, which reached well beyond the 28 students. There is also a yearly worship camp which Whitney was able to be a part of last year. This year, it was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Vision to see growth
The school staff remains united to teaching and equipping people to worship in Spirit and in truth and then for these students to be able to pass on that teaching to their congregations and other people. “God has been moving,” said Whitney. Though this is still the beginning of the school, their long-term vision and desire is to see church growth in Albania through this worship training.
Whitney is excited to see people learning music and realising what true worship really is—more than just singing and playing an instrument. As chosen children of God, Whitney feels that she and the Albanian musicians can truly live out their whole lives as worship towards God.
A dream came true when Whitney was able to work together with Heart Sounds in Albania (2017) and in Kosovo (2017 and 2018) to collaborate with other musicians, resulting in one Albanian worship album and a children’s album being made.
Abby Kitchener worked for two and a half years on OM's ship Doulos before serving in Southern Africa for over six years. In 2017, Abby joined the team in Albania where she is involved with several ministries, including the area of communications.
Published: Thursday, 13 August 2020
Credit: Abby Kitchener