By Johannes Reimer, Director of the Public Engagement Department and the WEA Peace & Reconciliation Network.
Originally published on Evangelical Focus
1. Albania – the land of the eagles
The small European country of Albania at the shore of the Mediterranean sea has an impressive history. Different people have lived here in different times: Illyrians, Greek, Romans, Byzantines and others.
An integral part of the Roman empire in ancient times, Albania became an independent kingdom in the 12th century, was occupied by the Ottoman Turks for nearly 500 years, declared independence in 1912 and turned after the WWII into a communist state.
Today Albania is a democratic state. The majority of the 2.8 Mio Albanians profess loosely Islam (59%), Christianity (17%), Atheism (15%) or stay undecided.
After the revolution in 1991 and the fall of communism, many Evangelical missionaries came to Albania. Today more than 20.000 Albanians confess the Gospel and belong to one of the evangelical denominations.
All of them unite under the Evangelical Alliance of Albania (EAA). According to the General Secretary of the EAA Ergest Biti the Alliance is officially recognized by the government as “Protestant religion.”
Unity has given the Evangelicals an official recognition in society and much freedom for doing mission and evangelism.
Albanians often refer to their country as a “land of the eagles.” Surely the evangelicals have developed as young eagles, carrying the gospel to every corner of society.
2. Christian schools – hope for the nation
In the 18th-19th century, Albania was known for its Albanian Renaissance. Albanians were known for their intellectual and spiritual strength and widely employed by the Ottomans in high-ranking offices everywhere in the empire. Some Albanians dream that similar time may come back to the small country.
A small Christian high school in the city of Lezha, founded by a local evangelical couple Klementina and Dini Shahini, nurtures such hopes.
“We are the only Christian School in Albania for nationals and the first one that got a license for Christian education. I have spent all my life in education in two countries: Albania and America. When I graduated from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia with an MA in Educational Leadership, God gave me the vision to start a Christian School in our homeland, Albania.
So, after 12 years of teaching in Virginia in one of the high schools in Portsmouth, we returned back to our country as missionaries to serve God and use the school as a tool to reach people. In ten years we have seen people’s lives changed and transformed, we have seen anger replaced with peace, revenge with forgiveness, hate with love. We have seen people giving their lives to God and serving Him. We experience God’s faithfulness, miracles, and blessings every moment.”
The school started 10 years ago with 7 children and counts 180 enrolled students today. Many influential leaders in the city send their children to this school, which offers education in English and Albanian and issues Albanian state high-school diploma as well as an US High school diploma.
Graduates of the school continue their studies in Europe and North America. The high standard of education is known in the country. “We experience miracles after miracles in our school”, Dini Shahini says.
The small and often financially struggling evangelical churches would never be able to carry the financial load alone. “Our help has come from Christians in North America and Europe,” Shahini says.
“Another problem is teachers. The young Albanian evangelical church does not have yet enough well-educated teachers. Now we employ even a teacher from Ukraine. Urgent support is needed.”
The Christian high school in Lezha sets a standard of high-quality education in the country. This in turn opens unexpected doors for evangelism. Pastor Shahini explains:
“We have invited children from poor Roma background to our school. They come from families who have never been privileged to attend any school and, of course, none of them is able to pay tuition. Our school foundation raises support for them and even organizes food and clothes for their families. It is great to see how children from wealthy families bring aid to the school and we distribute it to the needy Roma.
And now some of the Roma parents started to attend literacy classes in our church and visit our services. It is the school which opens doors for evangelism to people in our society which has never been touched with the Gospel.”
The story of the school in Lezha is well known in Albania. Many pastors dream to follow the same path. “Our churches are ready to become socially relevant,” says the General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Albania Ergest Biti.
“But the economic status of Albania does not allow us to move ahead. If our brothers and sisters in the rich West will help and if they even send more missionaries as teachers to us, we would be able to create a whole network of Christian schools throughout the country”.
Biti reports on his own Nazarene church in Tirana, which already now serves the community with a kindergarden and would love to expend this work into a full-size school. “Our government is very much in favor of us, evangelicals, as well as other religious groups. Expanding our educational mission would find official support.”
This is an amazing exception in the region. Should the evangelicals throughout the world not see this as an open door to bring the gospel to even more Albans?
3. Evangelical schools in the world – the potential partner of the EAA?
There are thousands of Christian schools throughout the world. Many of them are members of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) headquartered in Colorado Springs, USA.
ACSI openly declares that the aim of the association is to advance and make available Christian education worldwide in order that such schools “contribute to the public good through effective teaching and learning and that are biblically sound, academically rigorous, socially engaged, and culturally relevant …” (footnote 1)
This and nothing less is what Albanian Christians dream of. Would it not be ideal if every evangelical school adopted a school project in Albania and sent a teacher there as missionary? The school in Lezha already now sets a model for this.
The August-Hermann-Franke school in Detmold, Germany partners with Lezha exactly in such way. And without such partnership many things would not function at all in Lezha.
A strong cooperation between Christian educators in developed countries and Albania would even allow to dream beyond a local school project, expanding to a pedagogical university, which would secure the native teaching personal for the years to come.
Does this sound impossible? Surely not. It has happened in many parts of the world, in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Albania, the land of eagles, might just become another success story of Christian mission using schools as its most effective tool to transform society and build a church strong enough to support itself and work for the kingdom of God.
Johannes Reimer, professor of Mission Studies and Intercultural Theology at the Ewersbach University of Applied Arts (Germany), and director of the department of Public Enagegement of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). He has recently traveled to Albania and visited the site he writes about.
1. Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)