Although Kosova is still officially part of Serbia, about 95% of its population are Albanian – and about 96% of these are Moslems. Traditionally, Albanian Islam has maintained a tolerant attitude towards Orthodox and Catholic minorities, but since the 1998-99 war in Kosova Islamic radicals have adopted a more militant and aggressive stance.
In 2001 a Christian missionary in Mitrovicë was abducted by two extreme Moslems. His car was burnt and he was threatened with more violence if he did not leave town. In 2003 some young believers or seekers in Suhareka, aged 16-17, stopped attending Christian meetings because they were threatened with expulsion from their school by a Moslem teacher.
By 2004, Islam in Kosova had strengthened (not among the educated and successful but among the poor) because of the humanitarian aid they had received. Nonetheless, in 2006 a new religious law was adopted, approved by Parliament and signed by the United Nations Mission in Kosova (UNMIK).
The most important part of the law is that it grants equal recognition to the five main religious communities in Kosova – the Islamic, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Evangelical. This could be very important for the future of the churches there.
I want to describe recent evangelistic events in the church at Gjilan. The story begins with the mother church in Prishtina, Messiah Evangelical Fellowship (the word ‘Church’ tends to be avoided, as to many it simply means ‘Serbian Orthodox’).
Messiah was founded in 1984 and is pastored by Femi Cakolli, whose father was for forty years the Moslem priest in Krileva. Femi grew up on the family farm and his father wanted him to follow his footsteps into the Islamic priesthood. But Femi was converted. Indeed the entire congregation at Messiah, numbering perhaps 30-50, consists of converted Moslems.
They became zealous to spread the gospel and turned their eye upon Gjilan – a city of about 80,000 inhabitants and the fifth largest in Kosova.
Evangelism began in 2001. From this outreach four families began to come regularly to Christian meetings, and 15 people professed faith. When I preached there in 2005, only a handful were attending but they seemed to appreciate the ministry.
One Saturday in April 2006 a restaurant was hired and 200 people, mainly from the educated stratum of the population, were invited. I lectured on the theme, ‘The gospel among Albanians’.
A meal was served to everyone who came – 173 in all. I delivered my talk and people seemed to listen attentively. Each had a slip of paper on which to write down a name, address or phone number for further contact – and any question raised by the talk.
A good number did so. Pastor Femi Cakolli or I answered the questions publicly. Naim Bllaca, who works full time as part of the church-planting team, photocopied the questions, and we hope to prepare an evangelistic booklet to address issues that Albanian Moslems themselves have raised.
At the same time as the meal and lecture, an evangelistic film was shown in Gjilan to young people. The following day Derek Haylock (Norwich) preached. About 30 were present, including some Americans. Following the service, tea, coffee and nibbles were served.
This year, I was again in Gjilan. A large dining hall at the Luli restaurant had been hired for a second lecture on the subject of the gospel in Albania, followed by a talk by Femi Cakolli.
As I had given a lecture on the theme last year, I wondered whether many would turn up for a second dose, but in the event about 120 came – mainly middle-aged men invited from among teachers and journalists. I assume 95-100% of them were Moslems.
I spoke for fifty minutes. Then Femi spoke. Then there were questions, which continued till well past 9.0 pm, implying that there was significant interest. Many took literature as they left. As last year, I asked Naim Bllaca to photocopy their questions.
Challenge and joy
Despite the zeal, blessing and growth, it must not be thought that the work goes ahead without danger to local believers. Recently four young men appeared at the Christian bookshop in Gjilan where Naim Bllaca works.
They told him they had been sent by the Moslem priest (hoja) to beat him up. When he told them that he was available if they truly felt they could do it before God, they left without fulfilling their commission.
As most Kosovan Christians are from a Moslem background, their desire to make Christ known is now leading some to move further into the Moslem world for evangelistic purposes. This trend is a joy to observe. For more information contact [email protected]
David M. Young
Albanian Evangelism Mission