This week we had two opportunities to travel just outside of Elbasan to teach people who live in nearby fshats or villages. On Thursday we headed to a small town called Qukës about 40 minutes out of Elbasan to visit a member family with a daughter getting ready to submit her mission papers. The Guri home was situated up in the beautiful mountains to the south of Elbasan and was a good 20 minute hike through the mud. We (Elder Price and I), the Tooley couple, and President Kashari (the Elbasan Branch President) went to their home (except the Tooleys because they were slightly sick) and shared a spiritual message with the family. We took the final mission paper page and headed back down the mountain.
The Toromani Family with the Elders
The other opportunity we had was when we visited the Toromani family near Tregan to the West of Elbasan. The drive up to their home was beautiful and we received an equally beautiful reception into the home. The elder sisters, Elona and Florida, have a baptismal date and are our bridge into teaching the rest of the family. We brought a message of the gospel into the home… along with fudge. We taught them and they were wonderfully receptive.
Well I would love to relate the history of Albania according to Elder Acheson. I love this country and I believe that all should love this country. But as all good stories, we should start from the beginning.
Is he as bright as a "sky full of lighters" or is he the "best hip hop dancer"??
First there was darkness.
Then God said “Let there be light.”
Shortly after, He said “Divide the lands from the waters; pay careful attention to divide Albania from the rest of the world.”
The angels under God’s direction were at a loss to keep separate from the rest of the world and so they decided to place Albania in the crossroads of every culture so that it can take on aspects of every culture and thereby be different from all others.
Albania, or Shqipëria as you will soon be calling it, is an ancient remnant of the Illyrian Empire who contended with the Greeks and others. Their empire used to encompass Ukraine to the Alps. Over the years they were forced down to where Yugoslavia used to be and what Albania should be. The Romans then took them over and assimilated them into the culture. So much so did they assimilate them into the culture that Illyrian blood seeped into the Imperial Family. Emperor Adrian’s first language was the ancient form of Albanian.
Anyways back to the interesting stuff, the Albanian people, after the fall of the Roman West and East Empires, came together and formed into a tight nit herding society. They had picked up both the Catholic and Orthodox strains of Christianity (because of its proximity to the center of Catholic influence, Rome; and the center of Orthodox influence, Constantinople and after its fall Greece). Anyways fast forward 1,000 years and the Ottoman Turks (Muslim) invade Greece and push their way up into Albania. They make it in and kill all of the adult members of the noble families and take the children and take them back to Constantinople renamed Istanbul. BIG MISTAKE!
Meet Gjerg Kastrioti, otherwise known as Skëndërbeg. He was one of the noble children abducted by the Ottomans to be trained as a Turkish Muslim General. He was raised as a Muslim and as a Turk. In all appearance, he was a useful tool in the hands of the caesaropapic Sultan. But what the Sultan didn’t realize was that they trained Skëndërbeg too well and didn’t brainwash him well enough. At the head of the Sultan’s armies in Greece, Skëndërbeg took a couple of his most trusted men and destroyed the remaining portion of the Sultan’s army. He then returned to Mother Shqipëria and rallied his fellow countrymen and created an army made-up of goat herders and berry-gatherers and under his charismatic leadership he was able to defeat the largest and most professional army on earth at the time.
Skëndërbeg was, in all reality, the Savior of Christianity. Mind you, not the Savior of Mankind (that’s someone else) but the Savior of Christianity. As part of his betrayal, he renounced Islam and returned to Christian religious practices. Up until this point, the Ottoman Empire was unstoppable and without intervention, would have rolled through Europe and made life a little different than that as we have it now. In the dozens of encounters that he had with the full might of the Turkish Army, he was the victor every time; always out-manned, always under-equipped, always the winner. It took his peaceful death to allow the Ottomans finally to retake Albania but at such an expense that they could not proceed in their conquest.
Albania remained under Ottoman rule until its peaceful movement for independence in 1912. With Independence came Mbreti Zogu i Parë [King Bird the First] and with the Fascist Italian Invasion in 1933 left Mbreti Zogu i Fundit [King Bird the Last]. And then came 2 decades of guerilla warfare which was ended only by WWII.
Albania’s fate, meaning whether it would be under communist rule or part of the American-backed Western Bloc, was determined by the Big Three at the Tehran Conference of 1945 as Churchill and Roosevelt while getting a drink during a break from discussing who gets what after the whole “Hitler Problem” was resolved. Roosevelt questioned Churchill and Stalin by shouting across the room “What happens with Albania?” Stalin, after having the translation whispered into his ear, sits silently drinking his bourbon. Roosevelt and Churchill receive their answer: Don’t touch Albania.
What ensued was one of the more violent, yet effective communist regimes established at that time. Enver Hoxha, the man himself was more of a Stalin than Stalin himself. Thousands died under him and he made sure to run the country thoroughly into the ground. Although my favorite Hoxha story is when he went to a Communist International meeting in Moscow in I believe in 1961. But at the meeting he stands up and calls the current Russian Leader Khrushchev a “revisionist, counter-revolutionary, and traitor to true communism!”A gutsy gamble, calling the most prominent communist leader an anti-communist. It give Hoxha a lot of attention at that meeting, especially he received attention from another ambitious leader from another backwards running country. The only real difference between Hoxha and this leader was that Hoxha only staved and killed people Albania in thousands; Mao Zedong starved and killed people in the millions.
Hoxha’s manly move gained him the favor of Mao because any public stab against the Russian hegemony helped give Mao more ability to squeeze his way out from under the looming Russian thumb. In return for the international move, Mao gave Hoxha tons of Chinese help in improving Albania’s infrastructure. Much of Albania is powered by the dams that were built by the Chinese and the help meant only the greater ability of the regime in enforcing its reign.
Missionaries in the field
From a missionary perspective, the Hoxha regime was not helpful. Along with rations, forced labor, and an absolute lack of freedom came taught atheism. Along with the hunger, despair, and hopelessness came believed atheism. People here in Albania, though stemming either from the Muslim or Christian tradition; have a difficult time seeing God in their lives. Some people have found faith by turning back to the traditions of their fathers and many others have been open to hearing new truths and opening their minds to new perspectives now available to them. It is a beautiful thing.
Well I love Albania and I hope that with greater understanding can come greater love.
Know that I love you all and I wish you all the success that can be afforded on your behalf.
P.S. Any dramatization or inaccuracy in the history of Albania is totally Elder Acheson’s fault.