BILOXI, Miss.—By teaching computer skills that will allow them to navigate the “data super highway,” Ric Stewart and Williams Trace Baptist Church in Sugar Land believe they can help Albanian immigrants living in Athens, Greece.
“Albanians typically do not have the personal discretionary funds required to bridge the digital divide—that is, the gap between those who have access to computers and the Internet with all of their advantages and those that do not have access—that gets wider every year,” said Stewart, who lives in Biloxi, Miss.
Stewart recently set up a computer lab at PORTA, an Albanian cultural center in Athens started and operated by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Bob and Janice Newell.
Stewart installed computers provided with funding from Williams Trace Baptist Church in Sugar Land, where Newell served as founding interim pastor 30 years ago.
“We challenged this congregation to create the Computer Learning Center because we knew this was a great need,” Mrs. Newell said.
“We recognized that Albanians in Athens are far behind the curve in computer learning and that computer knowledge will significantly enhance their chances of competing in the Athens job market, one in which they are already disadvantaged because they are a despised minority.”
Phil Lineberger, pastor of Williams Trace Baptist, said the church provides monthly support and special needs support to the Newells, with whom they have partnered for many years. Church members plan to work with the Newells in Athens on short-term mission experiences.
The Computer Learning Center is one example of the way PORTA is providing resources and skills required to help Albanians gain equality in Greek society. English classes, art exhibits and jewelry design workshops are other resources PORTA offers.
While Stewart helped with the computer center installation, his wife, Cindy, taught a two-day jewelry workshop to Albanian women.
“Ric and I are so impressed with the enthusiasm that Bob and Janice have generated with the Albanians for PORTA,” Mrs. Stewart said. “To be included in the work that the Newells are doing is both an honor and a blessing from God. It makes us feel like ‘mini-missionaries’ with them.”
The Newells first met the Stewarts at Clear Lake Baptist Church in Houston. They were among the first PORTA partners who went to Athens in May 2007 to help with a cross-stitch project.
“We’re convinced that our work is enhanced by innovative partnerships with local churches, both in the States and here in Greece,” Newell said.
“I know that the congregation is both headquarters and the heartbeat of missions and ministry. By partnering with laypersons in churches, we believe that we are providing an opportunity for all of us to be busy about the mission given to us by God. We are pleased that the ministry of PORTA allows us the chance to do, together with local churches, what neither of us could do alone.”