After 50 years of Communism in a Muslim Nation
By Pastor Rick Roberts
What a privilege to be called and led by God! After 17 year of pastoring, God called us to Albania. We were 49 years old. Too old to start missions work? Absolutely not!
Albania was a nation torn by many wars, ruled by Ottoman Turks for 500 years, and then taken over by a communist dictatorship in 1946, declared to be atheistic, and forbidden contact with the outside world. In 1992, the communist regime crumbled, and the International Protestant Assembly was founded in Tirana, the capital city. Patti and I served as missionary/pastors there from 2000 to 2006.
In May 2017, the church celebrated 25 years of ministry. Patti and I were privileged to attend and minister at this momentous occasion.
It was good to be back in Albania. The sounds of honking horns, smell of fish markets, spicy food, the call to prayer from the mosques 5 times a day, crowds pushing and shoving, majestic mountains, and shepherds driving their flocks through fields…and streets. We love this place.
After a 26-hour trip, a full schedule was lined up. Elvana, Patti’s language tutor who is like a daughter to us, was anxious to spend time with Patti. Elvana is the Project Manager for World Vision. She and husband Zydi are leaders in a new church.
Day 2 – We had a great time of fellowship with missionaries. We talked, laughed and cried while sharing the joys and pains of mission work, followed by a wonderful time of prayer together. Then I had coffee with former church members. As we sat outside for coffee there was a constant flow of begging Gypsy children. Later, I spoke at chapel for the Bible College. I talked about “Who Jesus is,” which is foundational to our Christian faith and an important principle to focus on in a primarily Muslim country, where Jesus is considered simply a great prophet and not the Son of God and Savior.
That evening I led worship at a prayer/worship service at IPA. We spent the hour singing worship songs in the Albanian language (Shqip). God blessed our time together as we prayed for the future of the church in Albania. Afterward, we went to dinner with friends, whose son practiced his English on us.
Day 3 – After breakfast at the Stephen Centre, a restaurant/motel founded by missionaries in the early 1990’s, I took my guitar and sat outside singing worship music. A Greek lady tried to give me money. (I guess I looked like a homeless gypsy. LOL!) At 10 a.m., I met with Bato, a language instructor, good friend, and church board member. In the evening we went to the service at IPA and afterward dinner with Kurt Plagenhoef, the missionary we first worked with.
Day 4 – We attended the Celebration at IPA. I sang “Oh Albania,” a song I wrote before going to Albania (frequently played on the Albanian Christian radio station). I was particularly moved as Kurt shared how, when he and the other original group of missionaries first entered the church facility it was filled with statues of communist leaders. Now, behold! A room full of Christians.
Day 5 – I preached the Anniversary Service from Philippians 3:12-14. “Celebrate the past, but don’t live there. Where you are going is more important than where you have been or where you came from.” We comissioned the entire congregation to be ministers for Jesus and take their nation for God. Afterward we had a picnic.
Day 6 – We had coffee meetings throughout the day with old friends: Mirgen, who translated my preaching for several years; Sherif and his wife, Shqiponia, who teaches children with special needs; dinner with Bato and Arta, followed by a sad goodbye with Evana and Zydi. Pastor Barry took us to the airport at 4:30 AM.
It is with great satisfaction that we look back at our time in Albania and see what great things God has done. From atheistic communism 25 years ago, from 0 to 200 evangelical churches, many led by Albanian pastors, and from a handful of believers in 1992 to 20,000 believers.
I remember sitting with a group of Albanian college students in a Bible study in 2002 and encouraging them to affect their nation for God. Those young people are now leaders in their communities and local businesses, some even serving as pastors and missionaries. When we obey God and go where he wants us to go, we can change the world.