Mission Illyria (Albania)
By Russ Burcham
Deluged by requests for money to support missions domestic and foreign, contemporary churches have difficulty in decision making. Choosing between good and bad is not the problem. That is easy to do. It is the choosing between the good and the good that drives elders and mission committees to frustration. Of interest are the varying influences and philosophies that affect the decisions.
Political developments in the Eastern Bloc countries coupled with the slow response rate in the Western European countries has driven the brotherhood into enthusiastic, if not frenzied, mission activity in former communistic countries. The "magic" word has changed from Germany to China to Africa to India to Russia and now to Albania. This article is to provide information about Albania and efforts to preach God's Word there.
It is normal that response to the "magic" words be expected. Also, certain good judgmental considerations should be kept in mind as the focus is shifted. The trouble is that facts escape attention. Sometimes churches work too fast, not doing their homework, ignoring the experiences of others, and expressing intense, independent, autonomic attitudes. The mistakes of yesterday are repeated and efficiency in using the Lord's money is lost. A call for cooperation and fellowship is not heard.
Popular interest is often the deciding factor. In spite of the high response rate in India, work in that country is to some extent old-hat. In spite of the continued need in Western Europe, churches are pulling out. Even those who have sponsored nation-wide evangelistic campaigns for the United States have found that flagging interest can be revived by extension into other parts of the world. Some organizations (not churches) find they can attain new public awareness and added support by appeals for assistance in parts of the world momentarily spotlighted.
The United States remains, in spite of its lethargy and complacent religious attitude, a country that needs God. Parallel with the old but rapidly growing ecumenical atmosphere is an affluence destructive to domestic evangelism. Missionaries express serious concern about the hardness of the American heart but find balm by spending most of their energies in distant lands.
To become excited about new and challenging areas where responses are high is easy.
The me-generation has invaded the church so that now it is difficult to avoid a striking resemblance to the Laodicean church.
Creature comforts demand more of our attention. Indeed, does it not seem that a comfortable environment is expected by the convert to Jesus Christ in the United States? Paradoxical thinking is exemplified by a church, bent on cultural change, that had someone carry a wooden cross down a carpeted aisle in an air conditioned building in an attempt to give the Lord's Supper more meaning.
Not all is negative. Churches are showing fresh interest in missions at home and abroad. Perhaps the new surge in foreign missions can spark a revival. When members of a local congregation go to a mission field for a few weeks of tough work, they will come home with a zeal for evangelism.
The severe winters, food shortages, and dangers of radioactive exposure in the Soviet Republic can drain the best of us. However, it is possible that polluted water (available perhaps two hours each day), using unclean cooking practices, contaminated fresh produce, and epidemic diseases can bring strength and greater determination to those who brave post-communist Albania. We cannot continue enthusiastic foreign missions without a growth in interest to convert our own friends. The difficulties at home are not fundamentally physical yet may be more demanding.
Albania is a country still living in the 1930s era. A total incongruity exists with the presence of television which dangles before the people a lure of unattainable Western affluence. The frustration is building.
American missionaries may be unwelcome if a proposed law is passed in the Albanian Parliament. The statement at the beginning of the democratic revolutionary government was: "We are ready for the Bible and visiting missionaries." Today Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and Islam are beginning to resent the intrusion of foreign workers. The proposed law would require new religious groups to obtain the sponsorship of existing legalized religions. This would effectively curtail our preaching of the Gospel. The churches of Christ must gain legal status when possible.
The first mission activity by members of the Lord's church in this impoverished nation was in 1992. Twenty-five Christians spent six weeks in the capital city of Tirana. About 60 people were converted.
August 1992 found the Broad Street church in Lexington, Tennessee, establishing John Redmayne and his wife there for prolonged work. On February 8, 1993, James Jones of Fairview, Tennessee, returned to establish a leadership training school.
This summer, Ben Jones and Dick Ady will again lead a group to Tirana. The Slicer Street church, Kennett, Missouri, will direct a mission group to Vlora, in the south part of that country, for two months. The Slicer Street church has proposed to plant a church in one city each year, leaving a qualified long- term worker at each point.
Albania is the most impoverished post-communist country of the Eastern Bloc. Religion was banned completely by the diabolical dictator, Enver Hoxha. Telling the people they were the most prosperous and best country in the world, he systematically isolated them, strangled their creative minds, took away their liberties, and stripped them of their personal dignity. They have no knowledge of the free enterprise ethic (reward for hard work). Unemployment is near 80 percent. There is no industry with which they can compete on the world market. Farmers have no mechanized implements for cultivating the soil which needs fertilizer they can not afford.
The hospitals and health care systems are in shambles. Hospital patients must provide bed clothing and food while receiving substandard treatment. Who can conceive of a dental clinic without running water?
Foreign investors must battle the unorganized, yet completely counterproductive, conspiracy of the people to gouge foreigners. Economic anarchy flourishes. Useful facilities are rare. Estimates for labor and nonexistent raw materials to build them are outrageous.
Schools have no books - communist propaganda textbooks have been discarded. Classroom windows are shattered so that students are exposed to the elements of storm and cold. There is no glass to replace them and no money to purchase the glass if it were available. Teaching equipment is almost nonexistent.
Yet the people are receptive to the primitive Gospel once preached in this very area by the apostle Paul (Rom. 15:19). It is their only hope, their only way to recovery. Their obedience to God's law is a necessary absolute, for "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:34).
They know this from first-hand experience.
Oh God, please help us to help Albania!