Thursday, August 17, 2023

The experience of real freedom - Albania

All photos courtesy of Unsplash 

When the countries of Eastern Europe emerged from the tyranny of communist oppression the euphoria of freedom was countered by the serious lack of welfare and social facilities which are taken for granted in the West. The countries emerged with infrastructure in shatters, poorly constructed housing and industry which could not compete with the efficient, computer driven factories enjoyed in capitalist countries. 

One of the hardest hit countries was Albania which had been sealed off from the Western world by a notorious dictator known as Enver Hoxha. He had ruled the nation from virtually the Second World War until he died in 1985. He jammed outside broadcasts, refused all outside publications and insisted that the nation was in danger of invasion. This led to the construction of a million and maybe more bunkers all over the country. Some of them were huge going into mountainsides and every community had a bunker. The concrete used was immense and there were regular practices for families to flee to bunker whenever the siren went off. There was no choice and severe punishment was imposed if people failed to go to their bunker.
Hoxha also announced that Albania was the first fully atheistic nation on earth. He banned all religious buildings whether churches, chapels, meeting halls, mosques or temples. He outlawed all religious literature and anyone caught with a Bible, Testament or Gospel was liable to dreadful punishment which could also be inflicted on their family. Also there was to be no instruction of children in anything to do with God. 

Interestingly Hoxha’s death and the eventual collapse of communism in the country led to a surge in religious activity. It was as if a lid had come off or a cork had come out of a bottle, churches sprang up all over the country. They did not meet in elaborately decorated buildings but is was often in people’s homes or roughly raised chapels but there was an eagerness to hear the Gospel and to enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

It has been my privilege to visit the country four times and the first was in the 1990s when the country was emerging from its oppressive years.  The place was chaotic. The airport was poorly managed, tracks had been lifted from the railway lines and the metal sold to iron works in Montenegro. The roads had potholes, rubbish accumulated on the streets, there were gangs running some of the city areas and manhole covers had been removed and so it was dangerous to walk about at night. There was also spasmodic shooting.  

I stayed in a hotel where young people were having a Bible teaching week and it was unusual. Glass was missing from some of the windows, running water was only available for twenty minutes a day, rubbish was heaped all over the ground and some of the woodwork was so bad that one could push a finger into it. The young people took it all in their stride and simply wanted to learn about God and how to serve Him.  

On later visits the whole situation has improved with a new airport, roads, and buildings. The old has largely disappeared and the new has appeared with investment from outside and especially from Western European countries. What a difference! Yet more importantly than the infrastructure changes has been the changes to individual lives. For so long they lived under a cold, oppressive, atheistic regime which offered no joy in the present and no hope for eternity. A new generation has freedom to learn that God is real, Jesus can be their Saviour and there is the glory of Heaven for all who will trust in Christ. The change that brings to a believer is more remarkable than anything else and it is a joy to know what it is to be a new creation in Christ. May that be our experience

Written by PAUL YOUNG 

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