29 April 2021
An Easter day in the life of… Medical Ambassadors Foundation, Albania
For the final stop on our Easter tour, we journey with ministry partners Medical Ambassadors Foundation (MAF) to Albania. For over 20 years MAF have been sharing the love of Jesus with poor and marginalised villages around the city of Korça, through church planting, evangelising and children’s ministry.
One of the Easter traditions, here in Korça where we serve, is boiling eggs and coloring them red. The red egg is symbolic of the new life in Christ through his shed blood. The shell represents the sealed tomb and breaking the egg open symbolises the resurrection. These eggs are shared with one another during the holiday.
Today we rejoice that believers can freely celebrate Easter in Albania, but this wasn’t always the case. Step back in time with the team as they share a taster of their rich history and find out the full story.
In Romans 15 Paul states, “…all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the Gospel of Christ.” The Illyrians are believed to be the ancestors of the Albanians, so we can see that the Gospel was declared to them early on. With the passing of years and the formation of the Catholic and Byzantine churches, the east and west were divided. Albania is one of the countries where east and west meet; with most Catholics in the north/north-western regions and most Eastern Orthodoxes in the south/south-eastern regions.
In the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire arrived bringing Islam, and ruled for almost 500 years. During this time Albania became an Islamic majority country and, to this day, is still one of the few Islamic majority countries in Europe.
Fast forward to the 1900's and missionaries came to the region of Korça to help Albanians who had started a school for girls in their struggle for independence, which was won in 1912. Along the way these missionaries also helped with a clinic, provided relief work during WWI and planted a church.
Post war persecution
After WWII, communism came to Albania. The missionaries were required to leave, persecution began and in 1967 the dictator declared, “Albania believes there is no God!” All churches and mosques were forced to close and religion was strictly forbidden. This brutal regime, which some called “the North Korea of Eastern Europe”, remained in control for almost 50 years.
Because of this, most people did not practice, or even know the tenets of any religion. Most knew their family’s religious history, whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Muslim, but it wasn’t personal to them. Very few Evangelical believers survived and there was no church presence, not even an underground church.
Freedom to celebrate Easter
With the fall of communism in the early 1990s, and the subsequent freedom of religion in Albania, many started practicing their family’s traditions again. The interesting thing about this today is that many still practice traditions, but they don’t know the significance behind them, nor do they actually believe the truths that they represent. For example, there are Eastern Orthodox families that practice the traditions, but do not know the meaning behind them and some aren’t even certain that Jesus existed!
Since the fall of communism, missionaries have come and churches have been planted in most of the major cities. And, a few years ago the Protestant Evangelicals were even recognized as the 5th official religion, but we are still only 0.14% of the population so there is much work yet to be done. We are working in several Islamic villages not far from the city of Korça, where we have three church plants and there we have started some traditions for celebrating Easter, including those red eggs we mentioned earlier! Often on Friday, there is a service for believers where the death of Christ is commemorated and the Lord’s Supper is observed. It is a solemn time of reflection.
Then on Sunday there is a joyful service celebrating the wonder of the resurrection. Sometimes we do joint services with believers from the villages we are working in and we often have red eggs and we explain what they represent. A few years ago we were inaugurating the new building for the church in Vloçisht and we had the celebration there.
This is always a time of hope and joy for the believers as they remember where they were before and how the Lord has changed their lives since they have come to Him.
We praise God that believers are now able to openly celebrate the good news of Easter in Albania and give thanks for all the MAF team are doing to share the Gospel. Find out more about their ministry here.