Relaymedia

Saturation Evangelism Impacts Albania

Number of evangelicals up by nearly half
( [email protected] ) Jul 21, 2003 01:08 AM EDT

The tiny evangelical Protestant community in Albania got a huge boost last month as American evangelists converged to proclaim the gospel in seven cities, Religionjournal reported.

Of the approximately 12,000 people who were exposed to Christianity in June, 3,625 became Christians, increasing the size of the evangelical community in the country by nearly half.

The outreach was spearheaded by the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, which sent nine evangelists affiliated with its Next Generation Alliance to preach and hold meetings June 13-22 in the Albanian cities of Durres, Elbasan, Fushe-Kruje, Lac, Lushnja, Shkoder and Tirana. The participating evangelists were Dan Owens, Jose Zayas, Paul and Fiona Hendley, Richard Gibbons, Stuart Cripps, Will Stileman, Mike Parker and Reid Saunders. Palau himself was not present.

Sandra Barrett of the Next Generation Alliance said the response rate in Albania was the highest the group had ever experienced.

The preachers practiced what the ministry calls "saturation evangelism," holding almost 100 meetings of various sizes over 10 days.

Large events drew people of all ages and walks of life, while smaller events targeted politicians, medical officials, senior citizens, women, men, Gypsies, business and professional people, students, athletes, port officials, disabled children, community workers, police officers, prison inmates, street children, members of the military, prison staff, teachers, professors and the visually impaired. It was the first time there had been organized evangelistic events in most of the prisons and in the slums of Tirana, the capital.

In that city, 22 politicians, 36 businessmen, 25 teachers and 17 senior personnel from the prison service converted to Christianity.

One government leader said, "I am now convinced that Jesus is the answer for Albania," according to the Rev. Paulin Vilajeti of Tirana Church.

A driver for one of the evangelists, who had a criminal record and a reputation for carrying out revenge attacks, sat in on every event. "He repented and cried out to Jesus. … He's now a changed man," the Rev. Dag Rane said.

A television cameraman covering the events was converted, as was a waiter at one of the restaurants. "He was one of the worst criminals in town," a local pastor told the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association.

Also, during the outreaches, 678 people who were already Christians rededicated their lives to Christ.

"It was like stepping into the Book of Acts," evangelist Zayas said. "Most Christians in Albania have been followers for less than 10 years. The churches are small, but full of young and energetic believers."

In March, evangelistic events were held in five Albanian cities to model the method of outreach that was to be used in June. "Of the 509 in attendance, 166 made first-time decisions to accept Christ as Savior, including the police chief of Durres and the wife of the leader of one of the main political parties," chief outreach organizer Nigel Gordon told religionjournal.com.

"The vast majority of those adults who responded to the gospel did so at meal/coffee-type events. They were brought by a friend or colleague, each bringing many, many non-Christians," he said.

The outreaches stimulated the Albanian church and gave believers confidence to evangelize, said Geni Begu, general director of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance.

Albanian churches are busy integrating the converts into local congregations, Barrett said. Copies of the decision cards have gone to event organizers, to the people who invited the converts, and to their pastors.

Some of the evangelists who traveled to Albania have as much as 15 years' experience in full-time ministry; others are fresh from seminary. Palau, 67, who has preached around the world for 35 years, started the Next Generation Alliance in 1998 to expand his ministry with a new generation of evangelists.

Albania was the world's first officially atheistic country. All mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances were prohibited. Former dictator Enver Hoxha boasted of eliminating religion, and for 12 years there was no known Christian in the 3.5 million-person country, which is located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.

In 1990, the country ended 44 years of communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. When religious practice was again allowed, Albania reverted to its Muslim past.

Today, Albania's population is 70 percent Muslim, 20 percent Albanian Orthodox, and 10 percent Roman Catholic, according to U.S. government statistics. Less than 1 percent of the country's citizens are evangelical Christians.

Although the evangelical community is small, "every town and city now has a group of evangelical believers," according to Operation World. Trans World Radio broadcasts 80 hours weekly from Radio Tirana, a station that was originally built to propagate atheism.