My Recent Visit to Albania

Albania… In the 1970’s the very mention of its name conjured up images in my mind of a forsaken, mysterious land where worship of God was forbidden. I am old enough to remember Albania as it was during that dark era when it was declared an atheist state, the first of its kind in the world. This was the era of Enver Hoxha’s regime and this was an era when tourists were not normally welcomed to Albania’s shores, perhaps because of the influence that they might have had. I remember reading about the experience of one traveller back then who somehow managed to get across the border, only to be confronted with a cold sign in a railway station which simply read: “There is no God.”

This immediately brings to mind the words of Psalm 14v1… “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God…” How marvellous that dictatorships and regimes may come and go upon this earth – “but the word of the Lord endureth forever.” (1Pet. 1v25) And His Spirit is not subject to the will and restraining influences of mankind!

This summer I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Albania for the very first time. At the first faint view of its shores across the sparkling sea, I smiled with delight. After all these years of wishing for the opportunity, at last my dream had come true! As our ferry approached the Port of Sarandё, I took in the pastel-coloured apartments and a lovely stretch of sandy beach with parasols, where Albanians were sunbathing.

Once we had boarded the coach which would take us to the archaeological centre of Butrint, however, I could see clearly that here was a country in transition. Our Albanian guide apologised for the state of the unsurfaced road… “The government said it would be finished in June,” he said, and then added jokingly… “but they didn’t say which year!” And so, after a rough sea journey, I was again feeling a little ‘on the wobbly side,’ as the coach dipped up and down through potholes and giant craters on the unsurfaced roads. At one point I noticed the strange sight of a lone bullock with a bell around its neck walking ahead of us on the terrible road. ‘Poor thing,’ I thought as I observed the bones protruding from its back. Strangely there were many half-erected dwelling places en route, which looked like the ‘leaning tower of Pisa.’ “They’ve been asked to pull those down again,” explained the guide, “they didn’t really have permission.” My fellow travellers nodded silently and raised their eyebrows.

On our arrival at the beautiful area of Butrint, I admired the nearby lake, where a lone fisherman sat in his boat. I loved the atmosphere of this historical place which reminded me, in a sense of my own native Ireland. As we descended from the coach little children ran to us with lovely handmade colourful bracelets at €1 each, while hanging from the branches of nearby trees were more handcrafted articles for sale. The archaeological area of Butrint, our guide told us, was inhabited in prehistoric times and there was once Roman colony there. As we followed him around this place where history had left its indelible mark, I thought about the Roman Empire and the Apostle Paul… Hadn’t my recent reading in Romans 15 shown how Paul had preached the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum and hadn’t I discovered that Illyricum was in ancient Albania?

We returned from the archaeological centre along the rocky road where a pleasant meal was waiting for us in a hotel in Sarandё and then we had just a short time of freedom to explore some of the nearby streets. I had so many of my free handcrafted bookmarks (with John 3v16 inserted in Albanian) to give out – and so little time to do it! It was rewarding, that particular experience, and I will never forget the gratitude (for the most part) of those who received them.

I would ask prayer for the souls of Albania, which today consists of 70% Muslim, 20% Albanian Orthodox, a small number of Roman Catholics – and an even smaller number of Evangelical Christians. May Albania’s men, women and lovely little children awake to the good news that the Lord Jesus Christ has come to give them life – and life that is more abundant! (John 10v10) 

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