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The Furtherance and Afflictions of the Gospel

Evangelism, Blessing and Intolerance in Albania, 1935-1940

by Dr. Edwin E. Jacques

missionary to Albania, 1932-1940

Originally published in 1988 by the Albanian Evangelical Trust, PO Box 388, WREXHAM, Clwyd, LL11 2TW U.K. now known as Albanian Evangelical Mission. 

"the furtherance of the gospel" - Phil 1.12

"the afflictions of the gospel" - 2 Tim 1.8

Used by the kind permission of Dr. Edwin E. Jacques with whom RCM's Rev. Donnan was in frequent phone contact during 1993.  He provided the following material.
KORÇA, 1935-1940

Outreach through the Sunday School

Sunday School attendance throughout 1937 and 1938, except during the warm weather, averaged about four hundred children, meeting in two sessions.  Dorothy Jacques became responsible for the Beginners' Department in 1937.  A monthly teachers' meeting was begun in February 1937 for planning, training, prayer and fellowship.

At the same time Sunday School attendants began receiving beautifully coloured lesson cards, illustrating the Bible story which was briefly summarised in Albanian on the back.

These became highly prized by children throughout the city, who could frequently be found in a huddle playing a game with them, to add still more to their collection.

When Edwin and Dorothy Jacques returned to Korça in 1986, an old man happily volunteered the information that he had attended Sunday School as a boy, and had made a collection of coloured Bible picture cards given out weekly with the lesson stories printed on the back!

In April, Arthur Konrad, a missionary colleague, took over the direction of the Sunday School.  He learned the Albanian language with remarkable precision, and by the end of 1938 assumed a very heavy load.  Each Sunday morning he directed the mission Sunday School, then held a meeting and another Sunday School in the slum district.  In the afternoon he conducted a Christian Life class, and had charge of the evening meeting at the mission chapel.

And each week he spent a few days in colportage work among the mountain villages.

A three-day Bible Camp for Sunday School honour students was held in July 1938, at the Kennedy Hilltop farm.  It featured a treasure hunt, sings, hamburgers, games, mountain hikes, classes, swimming, object talks, pictures and sunburn.

Sixteen boys and girls attended the first session 4th-6th July, five of the older ones receiving Christ as their Saviour.

The next week the Bible Camp was repeated for ten girls of high school age, and the matron and six girls committed themselves to Christ.

Immediately after the camp, those who had made Christian decisions requested a special prayer meeting, which led naturally into another Christian Life training class that met weekly with Arthur Konrad.  They shared their convictions with others, and all through August individuals averaging nineteen years of age dropped around at the mission to talk of their concern about salvation--fourteen of them that month.

Outreach Through the Youth Center 

The reading room at the mission was reopened in November 1937.  It was stocked with current reading material, but primarily with Scriptures, Christian magazines and booklets in several languages.  There were also table games.

The centre drew many young men who previously had spent their spare time on the street or in the coffee houses.  Whether these young men spent more time in reading and study or in freewheeling discussion is debatable, but at least it is certain that the climate precipitated discussion of Christian themes.

And this brought Nasi to court.  It happened like this.  Certain young men insisted that holy icons had supernatural powers; Nasi objected that they were just painted wood with no miraculous power at all.  Strolling later past a wayside shrine, some who could not forget the issue dared Nasi to touch the icon, warning him that his arm would become paralysed.  With one hand Nasi took the icon off the shelf, and rapped on it with the other. To the amazement of some, nothing happened.  But one disappointed zealot accused Nasi to the police, who arrested him.  In court that April (1938), he was tried, censured and acquitted.  The case attracted attention, and while his companions learned the powerlessness of the icon, Nasi learned the power of the Law!  Thereafter he would conduct demonstrations only with his old mother's household icon.  Word spread, of course.  Working those days with a mason at the home of a Muslim bishop, many fascinating discussions resulted.

An Approach to Korça Muslims

Jacques and Konrad found themselves in an Islamic sea.  Jacques wrote in 1936:

One usually thinks of Turkey as the typical Muslim country.  It is so no longer.  In Turkish streets the man's fez and the woman's veil are strictly forbidden, but both prevail in Albania.  Our streets are full of dervishes and hodjas in robe and turban, whereas in Turkey clerical robes are forbidden on the street.  In Turkey the muezzin gives the call to prayer from the minaret in the national language, Turkish, whereas from Albanian minarets the call is still given in Arabic.  Some people affirm that Albania is more Turkish than is Turkey.

Few Muslims ventured over into the Orthodox or Christian quarter of the city to attend mission services.  How could their misconceptions of Christianity be cleared up?

Market colportage was one answer.  Bajram, while a student at the Muslim seminary at Tirana, used to pass through Korça on the way home to his village.  One day in the market he saw Mr. Kennedy with the colportage stand, and bought an English Bible.  He wanted to improve his English, for one thing; but he also wanted to read something about Jesus Christ.  For two years, he read and pondered, then left the seminary trusting Christ as his Saviour.  Jacques wrote in 1937:

"He comes twelve miles from his village to Korça and teaches Sunday School every Sunday.  Last Sunday because of the mud he had to come in by foot.  The children of Orthodox background call him the "hodja" or Muslim priest, and are so amazed that he should be teaching them about Christ.  It is altogether refreshing to hear one with a Muslim name like Bajram close his prayer 'in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ'."

He urged the mission to do more for his people.  The colportage work continued.

A more adequate supply of Christian literature was developed which would properly interpret Christian truth to the Muslim.  But there were problems in importing such literature, especially from the Nile Mission Press.

Jacques wrote in 1937:

"Yesterday, after much insistence, two packages of sample publications mailed seven weeks ago from Cairo, Egypt, were located - safely shelved in the office of the Inspector of Education, for censorship. 'You'll receive them, maybe, after a week or two,' his secretary assured us'."

But it was six weeks later, following five visits to the Inspector's office and four to the Prefect's office, that the material was finally released.

The mission encountered yet other problems involved in printing their own literature, especially after the enactment of the 1937 laws covering objectionable publications.  Missionaries as well as Communists had to practise the fine art of brinkmanship.  Much time was required with the translator preparing the manuscript, shepherding it through the printshop and carefully supervising its distribution.

A reading room was opened in the Muslim quarter of the city in mid-March, 1938.  It was based in a rented corner grocery store in the residential area behind the main mosque.  Two display windows illuminated at night attracted much attention on the relatively dark streets.

The walls were lined with bookshelves containing many good Albanian books, newspapers and periodicals, for the public library was on the other side of the city.  Other shelves displayed a complete assortment of Scriptures in all the familiar languages, also a few Christian periodicals and Christian books.

We also placed on a high reading desk a collection of 300 large colour poster-size pictures illustrating Old and New Testament stories.  There was also a free tract stand, reading tables and benches.

Jacques opened the room to those over elementary school age on three afternoons and evenings a week: Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.  Despite a measure of suspicion from their elders, attendance each day ranged between eight and twenty.

To interpret the Christian Easter story, on 25th. April 1938, projected pictures of the death and resurrection of Christ were shown three times at the reading room, crowded with an altogether respectful mass of youthful students.

The following September, the mission began Sunday morning "lectures" at the reading room, the first being a study on the miraculous birth of Christ in the Kuran and the Gospels.  The fifteen lycee students and men responded positively.

Soon however they requested a change.  There was no time for discussion, because Jacques had to leave that early session to conduct the Sunday morning service across town at the mission.  So the group requested a period during the week for questions and discussion.  A Question Box was posted in the reading room, and Thursdays the written questions were discussed.

On the whole these Muslim youth were quite irreligious, seeming more interested in Hitler and Mussolini than in either Mohammed or Christ.  Yet the questions opened fascinating interaction.  Some illustrate their problems concerning the Christian faith:

- Did Christ have a father and mother?

- When was He born?

− Is Jesus the son of natural procreation, or a son of God?  Then what idea does this give about God?

− Is Christ Himself the Lord, or His Son?

− In the old days God sent prophets, such as the deathless Christ and Mohammed; why does God not send another messenger to arouse the people?

− Jesus Christ said, 'After Me there will come another prophet.' Wasn't this Mohammed? They had other questions based on their Kuran and traditions:

− When Christ was born, did He speak or not?

− What is written on the door of Paradise?

− What is that tree which has its roots in heaven and branches in the earth?

Needless to say, the missionary learned about as much as the students did during those hours together.  The interaction was altogether friendly and gratifying.

 

The Silent Witness of the Printed Page

Early in 1937 a royal decree provided for more strict censorship of publications printed in, or imported into, Albania.  The law provided for a $700 fine or a year in prison for printing anything which "hinders national unity, or is considered to offend the morals, good customs or state régime of Albania".  While the gun was aimed at the Communists, it could be easily swivelled around at the Protestants.

Although problems surfaced frequently, the law itself was never invoked. The Evangelical Mission was fortunate to enjoy the confidence of the Scripture Gift Mission, of London, and several other publishing houses which volunteered publication grants.

For a small mission, a rather ambitious publishing programme was undertaken.  During 1937 the SGM shipped in 40,000 beautifully illustrated folders, and financed the local printing of 25,000 "God hath spoken" booklets.  The mission had three booklets in process:  a wonderful 28-page booklet for Muslims, "How the Death of Christ differs from the Death of Prophets, Patriots and Martyrs"; Robert Laidlaw's 50-page booklet for students, "The Reason Why"; and another. The limited mission personnel had to devote hours on end checking the translation of this literature, Sunday School materials and tracts, then checking the printer's proofs meticulously.

Although imported publications were sometimes delayed for censorship, they were never charged customs, nor finally withheld.

Scripture in the Albanian Language

Then hundreds and hundreds of gospels and other Scriptural publications were procured from the local depot of the British & Foreign Bible Society.

The entire Bible was never published in Albanian.  There were eight Old Testament books published separately, and the entire New Testament.

The rest of the Old Testament had been translated but never published, both because of lack of funds, and because the old version needed a thorough revision.  Commissions had been attempted periodically to consider a revision, but again in early 1938 it was found impossible to interest qualified scholars in such an undertaking without guaranteeing a lucrative hourly wage.  The B&FBS Secretary for South-eastern Europe wrote from England:

The Orthodox Church is only ready to work on such a high and sacred task if a large sum of money is guaranteed from outside Albania before the work is begun.  One would think that it might be the duty of a Church to give the Word of God to her people!

His later communication from Belgrade explained his frustration:

In regard to a revision, a demand was made for a sum of Five Hundred Pounds for revising only a part of the labours of other people.  It is quite true that we 'must live' - at least so long as God wills it! - and those who trust God truly always find out that God is more' interested in our 'living' than we ever are.  Our translation committee were glad that all the gentlemen in question should live, and live well and happily.  But the fact remained that £500 was not forthcoming for that particular project.

The reconciliation of Bishop Fan Noli and King Zog led the B&FBS agent in Korça, Prof. Loni Kristo, to the hope that Noli might return to Albania and be in a position to head up such a revision commission.  The Bishop was one of the foremost authorities on the Albanian language, the master of an exceptionally lucid Albanian, and fluent in several other ancient and modern languages, also a most prolific translator of the classics and an author in his own right.  For two years Jacques discussed the matter of a revision with Bishop Noli in Boston.  The Bishop asked only, "Is the Bible Society rich?"

Predictably there is even yet (1988) no complete Bible in the Albanian language.

Colportage

Although it was quite beyond the powers of the Evangelical Mission to put the entire Bible into the hands of the Albanians, the missionaries determined to disseminate as widely as possible all the Biblical literature available to them.  The governmental colportage permit of 1934 was an altogether adequate basis.  So early in his missionary career, Konrad took the colportage stand into the crowded Korça bazaar to "rub elbows and later flea bites" with farmers from all over the Korça plain.

That same summer, accompanied by young men, he did colportage work throughout the villages of the region.  On pleasant Sunday afternoons, groups of young men, including Sunday School teachers, fanned out by bicycle, going two by two to nearby villages for tract distribution and extended discussion in the shadow of mosque or shrine.  They found that the Orthodox holidays and festivals offered another contact with the multitudes, as did the thousands of city dwellers casually strolling the boulevard each evening and on Sunday afternoons.  Thus, they felt that they were reaching the farmers and tradesmen at the Korça market, the religious at the holy day festivals, the intelligentsia and middle class people on the boulevard.

Literature distribution and colportage work usually closed with the coming of cold, rainy weather in late November.  But a special effort was made 25-28 November, 1937, for a gigantic celebration at Tirana commemorated the 25th anniversary of Albania's independence from Turkey.  While Jacques cared for the Korça programme, both the Konrads went to Tirana with the colportage stand.  The fireworks, bands, parades, decorations and merry-making reminded them of Independence Day celebrations back home.  They reported the police altogether cooperative, students and soldiers predominant at the stand set up on the main boulevard, and hecklers quite subdued.

In summation, colportage activity was interrupted rather frequently by police or lower officials, but appeal to higher authorities always resulted in the release of the literature and the granting of absolute liberty.

There were also frequent evidences of displeasure on the part of religious leaders, but the total freedom consistently enjoyed was altogether exhilirating.

PROCLAMATION IN KORÇA AND BEYOND

The Evangelical Mission workers were concerned that the Biblical influence was limited so greatly to the Korça prefecture.  For the rest of Albania, a single Bible Society colporteur was the only evangelical witness.

But a bright ray of light shone one day from the pages of a Tirana newspaper.  A small 4cm advertisement read simply:

WRITE and receive a free GOSPEL from the Bible House, Dept. A11, Geneva, Switzerland.

Rather timidly, they began in 1937 with their local newspaper, announcing the hours of public services at the mission, then succinct gospel messages at Christmas or Easter or holidays.  Then they inserted rather inconspicuous advertisements in the Tirana newspaper, offering a Gospel or Biblical literature to mail applicants.

They reported:

Somewhat to our surprise, the government-subsidized newspaper printed a couple of our advertisements enabling postal distribution of gospel literature.

Limited personnel hindered their taking full advantage of these many open doors.

Following up the colportage permit from the Tirana authorities, Kennedy in 1935 succeeded in obtaining an unwritten but semi-official consent to hold preaching services among the villages of the Korça prefecture.

In order to share the Good News with the Korça residents beyond the reach of the usual mission services, the missionaries took advantage of two significant seasons.  Easter 1937 afforded unusual opportunity.  Due to the refusal of the Eastern Orthodox Church to adopt the Gregorian calendar of the Western Church, the missionaries had two Easters:  that of the Protestants and Roman Catholics on 28th. March, and that of the Orthodox on 2nd. May.  They received permission to show coloured slides on the death and resurrection of Christ in both wards of the Korça state hospital and in the orphanage.  All one morning was spent running from office to office, but finally for the first time in over three years they secured permission to visit the prison.  Three times the pictures were shown and the story told to the 160 men, seen in three groups, with gospels distributed.

Hearing a report of the meetings, a nearby village opened its clubhouse.  The baby organ, trumpet and clarinet attracted the whole town.  Two large showings were arranged in the theatre at Pogradec, with 250 children in the afternoon and as many adults that evening.

Eight preaching services were conducted that summer in villages around Korça.

The Christmas season offered an opportunity for showing coloured slides and telling the story of the birth of Christ once again in privileged places.  Eleven Christmas services were held around the city, including the orphanage, the two wards of the state hospital, and three groups at the large prison. Jacques wrote:

One young man not quite 20 asked for a gospel, assured me he was 'very religious', and that he was in prison just for 'quarreling', then as an afterthought, 'quarreling with a gun'.  All the men appreciated the sack of steaming chestnuts and the tracts, two men even volunteering to carry home our projector and tract stand for us!

Two meetings were held in the two poor gypsy sections, Muslim and Orthodox; in crowded but respectful coffee houses; also in a rented Muslim home; in the reading room and mission.  The male chorus went through the city carolling, and helped provide flour and charcoal to seventeen destitute families.  Most of these Easter and Christmas presentations were repeated in 1938, with the addition of another on 31st. May:

In prison all morning presenting the 'Lost Sheep' filmslide message to the 150 lost sheep there.  A remarkable opportunity for interaction was given afterwards, visiting them in their rooms where a dozen men live together as a family.  There is widespread consent to our message, but little real conviction of sin.

Dorothy Jacques had her high school girls studying Acts during the weekday meeting, Jean Konrad then giving instruction in First Aid and practical nursing.  On 28th. August 1938 Mrs. Kennedy was asked to speak to the girls and their mothers on the "Pilgrim's Progress".  Over a hundred persons attended.

The very next day an unusually articulate evangelical couple from Romania passed through Korça and happened to find the mission.  She was a splendid speaker, a "bush aglow".  So in two hours the three colporteurs rounded up about 150 people who understood Romanian.  She sang Romanian hymns and told of her conversion.  Because of her consequent baptism, she was cast off by her brothers, spat on by neighbours and beaten by her husband.

Yet her very apparent spiritual victory was precisely the encouragement some of that Korça group needed.  Three days later the mother of one of the colporteurs gathered thirty-five of her neighbours and asked Dorothy Jacques to speak to them.  They asked Edwin Jacques to speak to them the following week, 8th September.  Such neighbourhood meetings looked very promising.  Then two days later the government dropped its blockbuster!

Training of Missionary Colleagues

K. graduated from the local lycee in 1937 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.  Having been very helpful in translation work, he sensed a call to Christian service.  His Lycee instruction having been in the French language, he applied to the Institut Biblique in a Paris suburb.  They arranged a work scholarship for him.  His one year of kitchen work, with some mission assistance, would support him through the two-year Bible course.  Materialistic acquaintances would charge him with "changing his religion for a scholarship abroad".  Certainly they would do just about anything to study in Paris; but they could never imagine washing dishes or peeling potatoes.  No scholar would do that!  But K. would.

He remained unmoved by his uncle's tirade:  Your mother lost her patriot husband 24 years ago; now she loses her son!  As for you, go!  A pleasant journey!  But never call me 'Uncle'; never call her 'Mother'.  You shame the living and the dead.

All the many formalities were completed, outfit collected, suitcase packed, bus, boat and railway reservations made.

But just one hour before bus departure, the fanatical mother and relatives and neighbours staged such a hysterical demonstration that he had to stay home.  She prostrated herself on the steps, grovelling and writhing and screaming that if he stepped over her body to leave for Paris, she would kill herself.  And certainly she would have done just that.

Nor was that the end of it.  The following February (1938), a high-level delegation of two professors and a High Dignitary spent three hours urging the missionaries to prohibit the young man from attending mission functions.  "They warned us that we could expect to 'lose prestige, to say the least'!"

The issue would not die there, however. That summer while walking back from an afternoon meeting in a mountain village, the small group emerged from a gorge and rounded a shoulder of the mountain as the sunlight faded.  It was a breathtaking sight - with the blue smoke from thousands of supper fires hanging like a halo over each of the many villages scattered across the broad Korça plain.  On the spot, two of the young men, a tinsmith and a shoemaker, determined to quit their jobs at once and do something about it.  So on 1st. August 1938 the missionaries felt constrained to improvise a home-made Bible Institute for their training.

Three young men came to the mission each morning for three hours of study in the Acts of the Apostles.  Each afternoon they went out to threshing floors and farms surrounding Korça, distributing tracts and selling the Scriptures.

To enable them to care for dependent families, the mission provided a small supplement to the Bible Society commission on Scripture sales.

Following two weeks of Biblical instruction and practical experience, the young men had two weeks to go back into the more remote villages.  Their primary purpose was colportage work, but opportunities came for meetings with children and women during the afternoon, and with men during the evening.  They returned with stirring accounts of crowded gatherings and a warm reception.

The missionaries felt catapulted by circumstances into a programme for training workers as mission helpers so as to reach the many villages systematically.

The combined classes and colportage continued for five weeks.  These three and another who had completed the Christian Life class asked for baptism. The date was set for Sunday, 11th. September. Then the government dropped its blockbuster!

But by the time Edwin Jacques had to leave Albania in 1940, distribution of Scripture Gift Mission booklets and Scripture portions had been undertaken in every market centre in Albania.  Thousands of pieces of literature passed into Albanian hands, and spoken testimony was widely given to the power of the Gospel.

 

INTERNMENT OF THE EVANGELICAL FORERUNNERS 10TH. SEPTEMBER, 1938

[Picture Below:  Looking down from Rozafat Fortress to the Xhamia e Plumbit, Shkodër, during a Scripture Gift Mission Campaign.]

For a period of three months that summer and autumn of 1938, not a week went by without two or three persons coming singly to the mission to confess Christ as their Saviour.

Soon thirty-four of these were in classes receiving Biblical instruction in the Christian life preparatory to baptism.  It seemed as though the praying and planning for the formation of an evangelical church group were about to be realised.

The missionaries consulted lawyers, who assured them that there was absolutely nothing in the laws of the State to hinder changing one's religion: "The State is non-religious. Religion is purely a personal matter.  Article 3 of our Constitution declares that every individual is free to follow the religion of his choice."

So the baptism of the first four was announced for Sunday, 11th. September, 1938.

And then the government dropped its blockbuster!

The preceding Saturday afternoon, some gendarmes or military police knocked on the mission gate, asking for four men by name.  It looked ominous, for these were the four men scheduled for baptism the next morning.  Located in their homes, they were locked up at the police station without questions or charges.  Missionary intervention was useless.

The prefect assured Jacques that the prosecution originated in Tirana, also that there was constitutional freedom of religion in Albania - freedom to follow the religion of their fathers, but not freedom to change their religious affiliation.

On the 13th. they were escorted by guards with fixed bayonets to the bus station, put in the rear compartment of the bus with the mail sacks, and taken the nine hour drive to Tirana, the capital. Again they were locked up.

Jacques went to Tirana and pleaded their cause before the Minister of the Interior, who had jurisdiction over religious matters, then before the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  The upshot was that "the exercise of religion in Albania is free, but proselytising propaganda is forbidden by law, and such cannot be tolerated, because it creates quarrels and disharmony among the religious elements."  Also proselytising propaganda "disturbs the status quo, the religious equilibrium of the State, and having political implications it must be prohibited."

It was useless to point out that these men were not guilty of proselytising propaganda; that they had simply wanted to exercise their constitutional right to follow the religion of their choice.  These four officials were Muslims.

So Jacques appealed to the Prime Minister, an Orthodox official.  Following the interview, Jacques notes:

He received me very kindly, assured me that he had heard nothing of the case, and asked for details.  He appeared visibly agitated, and assured me that (a) about the arrests, he would follow this up with the Minister of the Interior, that no one has a right to arrest the men on such charges inasmuch as the State is officially non-religious; (b) about our rights as a mission, we are perfectly free to receive individuals as Protestants if they are of age; (c) about the establishment of a Protestant community and Church: provisions are made in the law for the establishment of 'new' religious bodies to be recognised by the State.  He advised getting in touch with a lawyer and taking steps as outlined in the law.  Naturally his comments were greatly encouraging.  On his discussing the matter with the Minister of the Interior however, the latter seems to have prevailed.  The arrests were not reconsidered.

Two of the men were 18 years of age, one 22 and one 25.  Apparently however 'conversions' were taking place in Albania with impunity.

While in Tirana I met a young man who had left the Catholic Church for Bektashiism.  I read of a Uniate (Catholic) priest who published in the paper a declaration of repentance so as to re-enter the Orthodox Church.  And I recalled an Orthodox priest in Korça who had turned Uniate (Catholic).  It seems that this persecution of our men is outside the law, intended to intimidate our believers.

Jacques found the four men shut in a room without a ray of light.  They had been moved from their earlier room, which was infested with fleas, bedbugs and body lice, and shared with an old man headed to the insane asylum.  Though they had no idea what lay ahead, their spirits were good and their confidence in God unwavering.

For ten days they had only bread and water.  Then, with no charges or hearing, they were told that they would be interned for two months.

The prisons were already full of Communists and other malcontents, so internees were confined to the city limits, obliged to remain in the room provided by the police from dusk to dawn, and required to report at the police station each morning.  The police also made a minimal food provision daily.

The mission, with legal assistance, submitted a detailed appeal to the Minister of the Interior, but nothing ever came of it.  The hostile police action seemed indeed like a blockbuster dropped on the Evangelical Mission.

Time enabled the four in Tirana and the evangelical family in Korça to see that there was a silver lining even to this dark cloud.

First, instead of picking up one of the men scheduled for baptism, the gendarmes had got another man with the same first name who had been baptised a year earlier.  Friends urged the innocent victim to make known the mistake and escape the unjust punishment, but rather than involve his friend and brother, the breadwinner in a widowed family, he remained silent and took on himself the punishment due another.  All recognised this as a Christlike act.

Secondly, ten other members of the baptismal training classes determined to appear in court if given the opportunity to testify in behalf of the four.  That was significant, for to identify oneself with those in official disfavour could cost a person his job or his future.

Thirdly, the police advised the four one morning that to avoid monotony they should look around for a job.  Asked if they could sell books, the police assured them that they could, if the books were examined first for Communism.  The four sent to Korça immediately for a carton of scriptures and Scripture booklets.  The police found no Communism in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Peter, John and Paul.  So they approved the books, although expressing doubt as to whether many people would want to buy them.

For the remaining six weeks they were uninterrupted in their canvassing of stores and coffee houses for purchasers, and the distribution of free booklets.  They even set up a table on the boulevard of the capital city and offered Scriptures to the strolling passers-by.

They wrote that they also asked for permission to hold meetings in their living quarters, but were forbidden.

Their exchange of correspondence with Korça friends was mutually stimulating.  They happily identified with the apostle Paul, who had wanted to preach the Gospel in Rome the capital, was taken there in chains and kept in a hired house, "and Caesar paid his travelling expenses!"

Bajram

Then, finally, Bajram.  This former Muslim seminary student was scheduled for baptism with the others, but as a sergeant in the army he could not get leave on the proper weekend.  A few days later he came to Korça, learned of the arrests, and went to the police station. Jacques told the story:

By the way, I did not get this story from Bajram.  It came right from headquarters.  One evening in the market place I heard a voice calling, 'Zoti Xhejks!' ('Mr. Jacques!').  A gendarme came up, a Muslim and a good friend.  With a grin he asked, 'What are you doing to these men?'

Then he told how Bajram had visited the police station, indignant over the other arrests.  He declared that he too should be arrested then, for he likewise was converted to Christ and awaiting baptism, but could not obtain leave that day.

The gendarme continued, 'Bajram is a good man, though, and my wife comes from his village, so we hushed up the matter.'

This persecution did put iron in the souls of the evangelical family.

Their favourite hymn in those weeks was Martin Luther's 'Ein' feste Burg' ('A mighty fortress'):

Fortes' e fort' është Zoti yn,
Dhe e pa tundur mbrojtje.
Mbretëron ndihmonjësi i yn,
Nga vdekja na sjell rrojtje.
Se gjith ay armik
Kërkon të fut intrig;
Të shumtë ka fugi
E mbushur me mëri
Ky që mbi dhe s'ka pasur shok.

Nevertheless this unforeseen hostility was something of a blockbuster.

Discussions in family circles and in coffee houses spread the impression that it was no expedient to be seen at the Evangelica Mission and to share the official disfavour Governmental intolerance made new believers apprehensive.  Inquirers had second thoughts about attending public meetings.

The survival of the Evangelical Mission, the missionary outreach into the region, the baptism of new believers and the organisation of an Evangelical Church: all these seemed in jeopardy.

Yet all of these were found in every other country of Europe.  They were permitted in every civilised nation on earth.  Only in Albania were these basic religious right denied.

DEPARTURE

[Bajram, Edwin Jacques and Edwin Jacques' children]

Later, Edwin Jacques wrote:

As Italy and Albania were about to declare war, and I left last June, Bajram was the last of our group whom I saw.  Our Italian military truck stopped at a roadside camp.  There was Sergeant Bajram, caught in the iron military discipline of Fascist Rome, marching with his machine gunners to the Yugoslavian frontier.  As we said our natën e mirë's, there in the starry chillness of the mountains, it was a consolation to know that here and there in Albania's night are those redeemed ones - blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom they shine as lights in the world.

Yes, all of those freedoms were found in every other country of Europe.  They were permitted in every civilised nation on earth.  Only in Albania were these basic religious rights denied.

Albania was unique then, and it would become unique again in the future.  Those intolerant officials, so ready to crush a small evangelical minority, could have no way of knowing that a gathering whirlwind would destroy not only their religious minorities, but even their Muslim majority!

For Albania would again be unique.  It would become the only thoroughly atheistic State in the world.  It would become the only truly atheistic State in the history of mankind.

That Muslim intolerance was but a faint shadow of the intolerance yet to come.

FOOTNOTE

(by David M. Young, associated with Albanian Evangelical Mission)

1976 - A Significant Year

In September 1967 the Albanian literary monthly, Nëntori, announced that all mosques, churches, monasteries and other religious buildings had been closed, and that Albania had become the world's first atheistic State.  At the 7th. Congress of the Union of Albanian Women (June 1973), Premier Mehmet Shehu said: It is a great historic merit of our party and people that they have made Albania the first country in the world without religious rites.

1976

In early 1976, reports appeared in the western press that Albania had ordered all her citizens to change their names by the end of the year, if those names were seen as objectionable by the Party leadership from a political or ideological viewpoint.  Those who failed to obey the decree were to be given "appropriate names" by social organisations in their locality.  It was generally assumed by western diplomats and commentators that the decree was aimed at religious, and especially Christian, names.  It was seen as a further effort to remove remaining traces of religion in Albania.

Towards the end of 1976 the Albanian People's Assembly adopted a new Constitution.  The document observes that the "foundations of religious obscurantism" have been destroyed in Albania.

The Constitution thus adopted - and now in force -- contains these two articles:

Article 37: The State recognises no religion and...carries out atheist propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook.

Article 55: The creation of organisations of a...religious nature, ...religious...activities and propaganda are prohibited.

Also in 1976, however, a book was published in the United States, "The Fulfilled Promise", by Gjon Sinishta, documenting the appalling persecution experienced in Albania among the Roman Catholic minority.  In Britain, Reona Peterson's book "Tomorrow you die" was published - relating the work done secretly in Albania by two tourists, and their treatment at the hands of the Albanian authorities when caught, as well as detailing much of the religious situation in Albania.  The book made many aware for the first time of the serious situation for religious believers in Albania, and aroused widespread interest among Christians in Britain.

In October 1976 God drew together ten of His people in south-eastern England to pray earnestly and informedly about the plight of Albania. The meeting was held in a cottage in Kent, named Mow Cop, after the great prayer meeting held on Mow Cop in 1807.

It was the first of the Albania prayer meetings that continue to this day at various places in England and Wales, and are, we feel, such a significant factor in the matter of Albania, seen from a spiritual viewpoint.  The burden of prayer has increased over the years, and has surely been sustained by God because it is His will to answer those prayers inside the land of Albania.

A reader of AET's Newsletter, living in California, wrote:  About the time the initial prayer meeting was held in Kent, I was given a burden for Albania.  This reader is now part of a monthly prayer group which meets in California to pray specifically for Albania.  It is apparent that much of real significance, both secular and spiritual, was happening in 1976, and there is a widespread feeling that God is phasing in a new period in the religious situation inside Albania.

 
 
Reformation Christian Ministries - Reformed International College - Reformed Theological Seminary.  www.Reformation.edu