Albania was and remains one of the poorest nations in Europe. It threw off the shackles of communism in 1990 to embrace democracy, joined NATO in 2009 and is a candidate for membership of the EU. But the economy has been in the doldrums for many years, so much so that donkeys and carts are still common sights in rural areas. Forty per cent of Albania's 3 million inhabitants are still employed in agriculture, much of which is at little more than subsistence level. Many people, especially the young, are desperate to emigrate and to start again in places such as Italy and Greece.
In 1967, under Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, Albania announced itself as the world's first atheist state. Christianity and all other religions were banned, although many secret believers remained. After 1990, however, Albanians were free to worship again and Christian literature flooded the country. There are now three translations of the Bible available and TWR and other Christian radio stations also broadcast regularly. Now 62 per cent of the population claim to be Muslim and 32 per cent Christian, although only a tiny minority are evangelicals.
Many Christians working in Albania believe that a significant window for evangelism is now open. Most Albanian Muslims are nominal believers and a number are becoming very interested in Christianity. In the area of Mokra, near Pogradec in southern Albania for example, there are 47 mostly Muslim villages. Christian ministry Living Water Adopt-A-Child (LWAAC) has in the last year started four gospel meetings where about 30-40 people gather weekly to learn from the Bible.
However, that effort requires effective teaching materials and LWAAC is convinced that the Christianity Explored course is one of the best ways to communicate the Christian message. LWAAC and Albanian pastor Erion Cuni therefore spearheaded the raising of £23,000, in just four months, in order to translate Christianity Explored into Albanian, which will in turn underpin a major new evangelistic push. That sum will fund three to four years' worth of Christianity Explored material, including 10,000 course booklets, 2,000 leader guides and 1,000 DVDs. One hundred and seventy church pastors and leaders have already signed up for the launch of Christianity Exploredin Albania, which will take place in the capital, Tirana, on May 16-17, 2018.
Christianity Explored is an informal, seven-week course for people wanting to investigate Christianity. Looking at Mark's gospel, it explores Jesus's identity, mission and call – or, who he is, why he came and what it means to follow him. The course was founded out of All Soul's, Langham Place in 2002 and is popular all over the world, with about 500,000 people in 110 countries completing the course each year. It has also been translated into over 50 other languages besides Albanian.
LWAAC is partnering Christianity Exploredin Albania, where it has operated since 1995; it also works in Guatemala. The organisation seeks to change the world 'one child at a time' by giving them regular nourishing meals and proper medical and dental care - while also offering Bible classes at the feeding centres.
Phase two of the Christianity Explored Albania Project is now under way. This involves translating Soul, the youth edition (aimed at older teens and young adults) into Albanian. Again LWAAC is behind the fundraising.
Craig Dyer, Training Director of Christianity Explored Ministries, commented: 'We have been amazed at how LWAAC has embraced this project and raised the funds to translate and publish CE in Albanian. Please join with us in praying that the Lord will use the Christianity Explored series to get people into his word and his word into them.'
Scott Ballantine, LWAAC co-ordinator for Ireland and director of AAC Albania, said: 'We have an amazing window of opportunity for preaching the gospel both in Albania and in the Albanian-speaking areas in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, northern Greece and southern Italy. That may not last, however, as militant Islam tries to increase its influence in the country, but for now the biggest challenge is getting hold of the resources to best utilise the opportunity that now exists. We are sure that Christianity Explored will help immensely here.'
There are now three key issues as this ministry goes forward. Everyone involved is praying especially for the May launch, for a strong take-up of the Christianity Exploredmaterials and for Paster Cuni as he takes the project forward in future.
Iain Taylor works for Christianity Explored Ministries.