I grew up in the village of Krilevë – a community of 200 houses – in the mountains of eastern Kosovo. Coming from a Muslim family, I inherited Islamic practices and knowledge. Even today I remember lessons from that time – ‘the Muslim faith is the purest faith; Mohammed is the last prophet and the most loved of God, etc’.
Later, as I grew up, it was considered embarrassing and bad for young people to go to the mosque or to church. We were influenced by patriotic and Marxist-Leninist literature. This encouraged me in the idea that there is no God.
So by the time I was a young man, I believed that there was no God and that nature itself is God; that the Koran wasn’t a holy book; that Islam was an Arabic nationalist movement which we didn’t need since our faith was Albanianism; and that science is the answer to everything.
My father was a village hoxha, or muezzin, in Krilevë for 40 years. Through him I learned the more hidden aspects of the faith of Muslim clerics and Islamic literature, and witnessed the ignorance and primitiveness of those professing Islam.
My father wanted me to register at the Islamic school in Prishtina in 1985, but I said I did not believe in God and the school did not accept me. Until I finished middle school, I hadn’t known that Albanians had been Christians as well as Muslims. I thought that all people were Muslim, apart from the Serbs. Influenced by the Islamic worldview, I hated Serbs because they were ‘of the Cross’.
In 1989 I arrived in Prishtina to study Albanian literature, to learn about our history and culture. I shared a room with an Albanian Catholic from Stublia e Vitisë. I learned through my studies that at one time all Albanians had professed to be Christians; that there were still Albanian Christians today; that the Catholic Church existed in Prishtina; and that Albanian national literature for 300 years had been written almost exclusively by Catholic or Orthodox priests.
Zeal for my studies in ancient Albanian literature led me to both Catholic and Protestant churches in Prishtina, to search for religious and psychological literature. I noticed differences between the religious rituals of the church and mosque, the Bible and Koran, Christian and Islamic culture. At Catholic mass I saw young people, girls and children, whereas at the mosque there were mainly old men.
When I started to read the Bible, I encountered our own Illyrian, Dalmatian and Nicopolitan history. At that time I began to see other great differences, not because I had any theological training, but because of my contact with Christians and my previous knowledge of Islam.
I saw that Evangelicals persevered in holy living, forgiveness, repentance, love and spiritual freedom. This was never required of Muslims. When I started to read the Bible, I realised I needed contact with and experience of God. This was different from Islam, which claims to be inherited from birth.
In 1991, for the first time I possessed a New Testament. Through reading the Gospel of John, the Lord spoke to me in a profound way. In March 1992 I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. This was the occasion of my first ever prayer to God entirely in Albanian. I experienced freedom and was touched spiritually.
Christ didn’t require me to change my name or surname, nor to wear any special clothing, but simply that my life should please God through Christ, and that my heart should be committed to him. Nor was I required to become Catholic or Orthodox, but to follow Jesus as his disciple.
I started to proclaim my faith at the Protestant church in Prishtina and among my family and friends. I received a harsh reaction. I had never had such a reaction before when I spoke of religious things and many different religious leaders.
I was even invited by Serbian police inspectors to discuss my faith. They mocked me, saying: ‘You were born a Muslim and that’s how you should die. Why would Christ be interested in you? He belongs to us. You belong to the Turks, to the Arabs. Listen to your father. All Albanians are Muslims’.
The Serbian police watched my home thinking I was a CIA spy along with other Evangelicals in Prishtina. Articles against the evangelical movement in Kosova were published in the newspapers Jedinstvo and Politika.
The Catholics said that we couldn’t be Christians because we weren’t born Christians. Intellectual people called us a sect; others said I changed my faith for money. In 1996 the most important hoxha of Prishtina wanted to speak to me. He asked me to deny my faith publicly; otherwise, according to him, many other Muslims would take on this faith.
Jesus warned us that for his sake we would be persecuted and rejected. I am happy and at peace, secure in Christ and fulfilling God’s two great commands – love the Lord with all your being and love your neighbour as yourself.
We should even thank God for opposition to our faith. What kind of faith would it be if it wasn’t tested at all?