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Alleluias in Albania

Missionaries Eric and Kathy (Valentino) Gundy, both 1986 graduates, know their dependence on the Lord. They’ve been reminded of it every time they left their front door in Albania for the last 20 years. From Bible teaching to managing financial statements, the Gundys use their Bethel education daily.

By Judd Martinson '20

May 21, 2020 | 1 p.m.

Eric and Kathy (Valentino) Gundy, both 1986 graduates, serve as missionaries in Albania.

Eric and Kathy (Valentino) Gundy, both 1986 graduates, serve as missionaries in Albania.

Eric and Kathy (Valentino) Gundy, both 1986 graduates, launched into ministry after studying at Bethel University–from youth ministry in the Chicago area, then Southern California, to now completing more than 20 years of missionary work in Albania.

“It’s not how you would have chosen or what you would have picked, but it’s what God picked for you,” Kathy Gundy says.

The Gundys got married just six days after graduating from Bethel. They grew up in the same youth group and dated all through college. At Bethel, Eric studied life science and Kathy studied business. Eric began to sense a call to ministry while at Bethel through the impact of Bible classes and his roommates who had a passion for studying God’s Word. “It ignited something in me that wanted to explore and to dig deeper, and just a sense that that was where God was leading me… doing something around His Word,” Eric says.

Following their studies at Bethel, Kathy accepted a position at the Baptist General Conference headquarters working with the conference’s home missions department that gave loans to churches. While she worked there, Eric attended seminary in the area.

As a youth pastor, Eric took students to the Urbana Missions conference. “I felt like God was saying to me, ‘what you’re doing here in terms of discipling young people, I want you to do somewhere else where there aren’t people doing it,” he says. One youth pastor friend offered him a connection in Albania where many young people were coming to Christ. “They needed people to go who had youth ministry experience to work alongside these young churches filled with young people,” Eric says. 

The Gundys went to Albania alongside a local church in February of 2000. With the leftover supplies from a refugee crisis that ended, the church felt led to start a summer camp. The first camp was held in the summer of 2000. “It’s been an incredible thing, just to see how God uses the camp … for evangelism, to bring young people there to meet Christ, but also just to see the discipleship opportunities where you see young Albanian leadership grow,” Eric says.

One of the leaders the Gundys have seen grow in his faith and leadership is Niko. He began losing his sight at age 28 and went completely blind within the next several years. Niko got invited to the church and has been attending for about 15 years. Niko came to Christ and wanted to be involved in the summer camp. He initiated a summer camp program for sight impaired people that’s been going on ever since. “I’ve just seen him grow from being someone who wouldn’t even leave his house to now someone who comes to Christ and begins to see how God can use him to make a difference in the whole sight impaired community in Albania,” Eric says. Niko is now an elder in their local church and serves in the preaching rotation. He and Eric lead the men’s ministry at their church as well.

When you’re a parent, you look forward to seeing how your kids grow in different contexts, and Bethel was a great place for Abigail to grow in her love for Jesus and for her love for the Lord.

— Eric Gundy '86

The Gundys serve in their local church, at the camp, and for a Bible school at the camp facility. Eric serves as the principal of the six-month Bible school for Albanians and students from around the world. Kathy oversees the financial statements and finances of the camp and the church. She tutors foster students and homeschools. One of their children, Abigail Gundy ’15 attended Bethel, studying computer science. “When you’re a parentyou look forward to seeing how your kids grow in different contexts, and Bethel was a great place for Abigail to grow in her love for Jesus and for her love for the Lord,” Eric says.

Kathy explained how it can be challenging for missionary students to move back to the United States for college. However, she said Bethel offered an early move-in and activities for missionary students. “I think Bethel was really good at helping her to make that transition, and she’s done really well,” Kathy says.

Abigail Gundy '15 (left) makes pizza with her brother Josiah and their parents during quarantine.

Abigail Gundy '15 (left) makes pizza with her brother Josiah and their parents during quarantine.

Originally the Gundys planned to serve in Albania for two years, but each time they’ve considered what they felt led to do next, it’s been to stay as missionaries. They went to disciple young people coming to Christ but have taken different roles during their more than 20 years of ministry, however, their goal is to see Albanians take on leadership responsibilities. “We’re always constantly trying to work ourselves out of a job, so to speak,” Eric says.

As they were set to stay for only two years, the Gundys originally approached learning the Albanian language with the lampstand method, which entailed visiting someone each day and learning a new phrase. When they made a five-year commitment, they took a course for the language. Because of the worship songs Christians would sing, the Gundys earned a nickname in Albania. “When we were first there, they would call us “Alleluias’,” says Kathy.

When the Gundys arrived, their work focused on discipling new believers. Now it’s still evangelism, but there is depth of faith in the young Albanian pastors. At their local church services, attendees were individuals from families. Now there’s whole families coming–couples who grew up in the church, got married, and now they’re wondering about Christian parenting.

Beyond the work the Gundy’s accomplish in Albania, the experience as missionaries helps them understand their dependence on the Lord. They’re still the foreigners even though they’ve lived in Albania for more than 20 years. “It reminds us daily that we’re here on this planet for a purpose, and that’s been good,” Eric says.

Eric said their dependency on God has been a good thing for them spiritually. When that dependency is lostwhen it seems like it can be done without God, then that connection with God is lost. “He keeps us dependent on Him all the time, always kind of living outside of our comfort zone and knowing that we can’t do this apart from Him,” Eric says.

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