Albania is a small country bordered by Greece in the south, surrounded by former Yugoslavia on the east and across the sea from Italy.
You can see influences of all these countries in the language and culture, but the greatest impact seems to be the 500 years of the Ottoman rule, and the Islamic traditions and superstitions that were adopted at that time and then the strong hand of communism during one of the most brutal dictatorships of Enver Hoxha, after the Second World War. Enver Hoxha was deeply influenced by Stalin of Russia, his leadership mirrored much of the cruelty and tyranny of Stalin until he died. Then Hoxha alligned himself with Mao of China, since he felt Russia had gotten too liberal, and later even cut ties with China, cutting Albania off from the rest of the world. All churches were destroyed, any expressions of faith and prayer were prohibited. The people were taught that "by their own strength" they could accomplish everything, and they were taught that they were the best and not to have any ties or links with the outside world. History was re-written so that all heroes were memorable for their contribution toward the communist agenda. All letters were censored, and only positive things could be written or spoken about the New Albania. All private property was taken over by the state, and any large landowners, anyone with emigrated family members, anyone who was not a faithful party member were persecuted; either sent to far off villages, prevented from jobs and education and or imprisoned.
Ian and Caralee Loring, arrived in Albania just as the borders were opening in May of 1991. We met some of the first refugees escaping the country in to Greece. Hoxha had passed away peacefully and his wife and party had continued governing as the country was coming to an end...they had run out of most natural resources (no glass had been produced in the country for the last 3 years), all food was rationed, and very little was available. There were fights for bread in the morning as there wasn't enough for everyone. The news of other former communist countries falling was just beginning to trickle in, even with the jamming and laws forbidding people listening to outside radio stations. The young people got wind of things and held a revolution, pulling down the statues in the major cities. It was a peaceful revolution and an interim government took over.
The spiritual vacuum could be felt. The people were lost, everything they had been taught, everything they believed and sold their souls for was now shown to be a lie. Instead of being a prosperous country, they were actually the poorest country in Europe. All the reality hit hard and the people had no where to turn. The spiritual hunger for God, who they had not been allowed to even ask about, was so obvious and called us both to come and stay and share what we knew.
We discovered that there were a few "underground" believers left and were blessed to meet them. Koci Treska, who died that year, but had prayed that he would see the day that the gospel was once more preached in Albania, and he did. Ligor Cina, who became the next leader, now that their number was down to 4. He asked if we would come to help him start the church again. He had become a believer when he was young as part of a youth group, lead by Edwin Jaques, a missionary who lived in Korca in between the 2 world wars. He had come to carry on the work of Phinneas Kennedy, who had a church and a school for girls, and is still well known and remembered by the elderly in Korca. We liked his vision of a well-rounded church, that met the needs of the community spiritually and physically, and we have named our foundation after him and this vision (The Kennedy Foundation).
Early evangelism was done in the open air, and we would pray that God would supply us with translators. The first open air meeting in a park, we had to start before we knew who the translator would be! But a brave young lad volunteered, and so helped the first open air preaching to take place. We were able to hold a large evangelism meeting in the Korca football stadium, at the request of the people, as so many were interested they wanted everyone to hear, we were able to work together with some other groups who came into Albania with us. The Jesus Film had just come out and we were able to get a showing done in the local cinema. The early days were like walking on water, it seemed God opened doors we never imagined, and we were able to share the good news everywhere, even on the radio, in a place where no one thought it would ever be possible. People were so hungry to hear, and especially curious because it had been forbidden for so long. People would kiss the little leaflets and gospels, which was all that was available in Albanian at that time.
We are both evangelists, and through evangelism, have seen the Lord bring many to Himself. Along with the help of other missionaries, the church in Korca was started again and the foundation of evangelism was poured in place, as soon as people became believers, we would take them out to share their faith in
the villages, in the parks, in schools, in children's programs, on hospital visits. And so the church grew.
With the help of summer short term teams, we have been able to reach out to many of the villages, over 300 in the Korca area and reach into the next towns.
We would usually start with evangelism and a children's meeting or a school program, sometimes we had building projects, like a school, and then around the project would do every kind of outreach (Bible distribution and door to door visits, programs for all different ages, sports events, the Jesus film, etc) If there was serious interest we would begin a regular Bible Study, and then step by step, other churches have been born. Three of those churches now have Albanian pastors, one has a leadership group, several others are lead by Albanians who visit regularly. And the Lord has raised up 9 church plants (all at various stages of growth and development).
to see a stream of churches, linked through relationships, spread across the south east of Albania.
Our vision for Korca: That the Korca church would be a light to the community, and reaching out meeting needs both spiritually and physically. The harvest is still white, the workers are few. We still need laborers, skilled workers, short term teams to help build God's Kingdom here.
The project has recently divided into two major categories, medical and social. Medical activities are centered at the clinic and include many dimensions of community health and Physical Therapy. Social efforts have opened a center for the elderly and have established a day center for street kids. They manage a football team for gypsy boys. They also have a homeschool program for the disabled and handicapped, including the handicapped orphans. Although separate in function, the medical and social personnel cooperate closely and are committed to the same objectives under the Kennedy Foundation. All staff are Christians and members of the Korca Evangelical church.
Our desire is to reach the people where they are, to show them that there is only One solution, One Hope, and One Truth, that they can base their lives on and rebuild their lives. We do this through regular evangelism (open airs in parks, hospital visits, home visits, outreaches), regular teaching and discipleship through the church, and now through the Kennedy Foundation and it's varied branches of services and outreach to the community.
Take a look at our video presentation (on Youtube).
Christ and the Kalashnikov, the inspiring story of Ian and Caralee Loring in Albania
as told to Muthena Paul Alkazraji, published by Marshall Pickering, 2001
The Silencer, a thriller that draws on Paul Alkazraji's experiences of living in Albania over the past decade. It will certainly help you to understand the social background to OAC's work in the country.
Find Paul's books on Amazon: (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=paul+alkazraji