Bringing the message of salvation to the part of the world has been a tremendous challenge for centuries. Darkness has blanketed this part of the world. The shepherd heart of God is continually seeking to gather His lost sheep from other folds. God has uniquely positioned Albania to play a significant role in reaching this fold for Christ. Albania,has a population of 4.500.000 people, located on the Adriatic Sea coast of the Balkan Peninsula, between Kosovo and Montenegro on the north, Macedonia on the east, and Greece on the south. Tirana is the capital and largest city.
Christianity in Albania Christianity came to the Illyrian-populated lands in the first century. Apostule Paul wrote that he preached in the Roman province of Illyricum (Romans 15:19), and history holds that he visited Durrës. When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western halves in A.D. 395, the lands that now make up Albania were administered by the Eastern Empire but were ecclesiastically dependent on Rome. In A.D. 732, however, a Byzantine emperor, Leo the Isaurian, subordinated the area to the patriarchate of Constantinople. For centuries thereafter, the Albanian lands became an arena for the ecclesiastical struggle between Rome and Constantinople. Most Albanians living in the mountainous north became Roman Catholic, while in the southern and central regions, the majority became Orthodox.
Albanian lands under Ottoman domination
Ottoman supremacy in the Balkan region began in 1385 but was briefly interrupted in the 15th century, when Gjerg Kastrioti, an Albanian warrior known as Skanderbeg, allied with some Albanian chiefs and fought-off Turkish rule from 1443-1478 (although Kastrioti died in 1468). Skanderbeg united the Albanian tribes in a defensive alliance that held up the Ottoman advance for more than two decades. His family’s banner, bearing a black two-headed eagle on a red field, became the flag under which the Albanian national movement rallied centuries later. Upon the Ottomans’ return, a large number of Albanians fled to Italy, Greece and Egypt and many of the Albanians who remained (about two-thirds of the Albanian population), submitted and converted to the Islamic faith. The first Albanians to convert to Islam were young boys forcibly conscripted into the sultan’s military and administration. In the early seventeenth century, however, Albanians converted to Islam in great numbers. Within a century, the Albanian Islamic community was split between Sunni Muslims and adherents to the Bektashi sect. Many Albanians won fame and fortune as soldiers, administrators, and merchants in far-flung parts of the empire. Albania would be a part of the Ottoman Empire until the early 20th century.
Albania under strict Atheistic government (1944-1991)
Enver Hoxha emerged as the dominant figure in Albania after five years of political turmoil following the end of World War II. He began to concentrate primarily on securing and maintaining their power base, and secondarily on preserving Albania’s independence and reshaping the country according to the precepts of Stalinism. In 1967 Enver Hoxha declared Albania “the world’s first officially atheistic state.” It was forbidden by law to believe or to speak about God. Throughout all rule, Hoxha engineered an elaborate cult of personality that elevated him to the status of infallible leader. He died in 1985.
Ramiz Alia became president in 1982 and, following Hoxha’s death in 1985, first secretary of the Albanian Communist party. Alia began to strengthen ties with other European nations, notably Italy and Greece, and restored diplomatic relations with the USSR (1990) and the United States (1991). The government began to allow tourism and promote foreign trade, and permitted the formation of the opposition Democratic Party.
Christianity in Albania from 1991 until now
In 1991, students from the University of Tirana marched to the center square of Tirana. For more than 40 years Albania sat in deafening isolation under the iron fist of Europe’s purist form of communism. It took a group of courageous and visionary students to bring this wall down and open the doors for freedom. When the wall came down many Christians around the world rejoiced. For years Christians had prayed for such freedom in Albania. Different from other Eastern European nations, Albania had no “underground” church during the communist years, and in fact, prior to communism most of Albania was Muslim. Before the wall fell missiologists met and asked the question, “How many believers do we know of in Albania?” This group, representing many missions groups and denominations and very familiar with Eastern Europe, could only number 16 known believers in all of Albania! Literally they found themselves in the position of the Apostle Paul when he spoke of not “building on someone else’s foundation”
(Rom. 15:20). The church in Albania would be built from the ground up. There were many obvious questions that began to be asked by this group: “Where do you start?”; “Could such a people, raised under communism and sternly taught that there was no God, actually be interested in knowing about Jesus Christ?” and “Where will the leadership come from for the future of the church in Albania?” Missionaries starting to come in Albania. What they found was overwhelming. They were met by spiritually “hungry” young men and women who were filled with questions about God, Jesus Christ and the Bible that, all of their lives, they had never been free to ask. Within a year, hundreds of people placed their faith in Jesus Christ and joined Bible studies and churches started to be plant. God was truly doing something special! Now days the presence of the local church in Albania is growing. Statistics says that there are 25 000 committed believers in the country and about 200 churches all over Albania. Another great thing that God has done is the presence of Albanian missionaries. We never had, in our whole history as a country, Albanian missionaries before. We belong to the first generation of Christians but also the first generation of Albanian Missionaries in the whole history of this country. We are now seeing God raise up Albanian workers for His harvest in many countries.