Jehovah Never Abandoned Us
AS TOLD BY NASHO DORI
Mbreshtan is a small mountain village in southern Albania, not far from Greece. I was born there in 1907. When I was five, I began attending a Greek school, but my schooling was interrupted when Italian forces invaded Albania during World War I. After the war, I resumed my schooling but in the Albanian language.
ALTHOUGH my parents were not very religious, they observed the traditions of the Albanian Orthodox Church. My great-uncle was a priest in Mbreshtan, so I worked in the church and got an inside view of what went on there. The rituals seemed so empty, and the hypocrisy bothered me.
Following local custom, my parents selected a young woman for me to marry. Argjiro was from the nearby village of Grabova, and we were married in 1928, when she was 18.
Learning Bible Truth
About that time I complained about the Orthodox Church to a cousin who was visiting from the United States. “In America, near my home,” he replied, “there is a group of people who don’t have a church, but they study the Bible.” The idea of studying the Bible without having a church appealed to me. So I asked if he would send me some Bible literature.
I completely forgot about our conversation until about a year later when I received a package from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Inside was the book The Harp of God in Albanian and The Watchtower in Greek. I skimmed through the book and noticed a reference to the true church. That upset me. ‘I don’t want anything to do with a church,’ I said to myself. So I didn’t read the book thoroughly.
In 1929, I entered the military and was sent to the city of Tiranë, the capital of Albania. There I met Stathi Muçi, who was reading a Greek Bible. “Do you go to church?” I asked. “No,” he answered. “I left the church. I am one of the International Bible Students.” Another soldier and I went to a meeting with Stathi on Sunday. There I learned that the true church is not a building or a religion, but it is made up of anointed servants of Christ. Now I understood what The Harp of God was saying.
Nasho Idrizi and Spiro Vruho had returned to Albania from the United States in the mid-1920’s and were spreading Bible truths that they had learned there. I began attending the meetings in Tiranë, along with the handful of Bible Students. It soon became obvious to me that I had found Jehovah’s organization. So on August 4, 1930, I was baptized in a nearby river.
Afterward I returned to Mbreshtan to pursue my shoe-making profession. But more important, I also began sharing with others the Bible truths that I had learned. I would tell them: “Jesus Christ is not like the icons in the church. He is alive!”
Preaching Despite Opposition
Ahmed Bey Zogu seized power in 1925, made himself King Zog I in 1928, and ruled until 1939. His minister of human rights gave approval for our Christian work. Nevertheless, we had problems. This was because Musa Juka, the minister of the interior, was closely allied with the pope in Rome. Juka ordered that only three religions be recognized—Muslim, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic. The police tried to take our books and stop our preaching, but they were unsuccessful.
During the 1930’s, I often visited Berat, a larger city in Albania from where Mihal Sveci directed our preaching work. We arranged preaching tours throughout the country. Once I was sent to the town of Shkodër for two weeks, and I was able to leave much literature. In 1935 a group of us rented a bus to preach in the town of Këlcyrë. Then a larger tour of Albania was scheduled for the towns of Përmet, Leskovik, Ersekë, Korçë, Pogradec, and Elbasan. We finished the tour in Tiranë just in time to observe the Memorial of Christ’s death.
A supply of spiritual food helped us keep spiritually strong, so we never felt abandoned. From 1930 to 1939, I received the Greek Watchtower regularly. My goal was also to read the Bible for at least an hour each day, which I did for some 60 years before my eyesight failed. Only recently did the entire Bible become available in the Albanian language, so I am glad that I learned Greek as a child. Other Albanian Witnesses in those early days also learned to read Greek so that they too could read the entire Bible.
In 1938, Argjiro was baptized. By 1939 seven of our ten children had been born. Sadly, three of our first seven children died when they were young.
Hardships During World War II
In April 1939, just prior to the beginning of World War II, Italian Fascist troops attacked Albania. Soon afterward the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned, but our small group of about 50 Kingdom proclaimers continued to preach. Some 15,000 of our books and booklets were confiscated and destroyed during World War II.
Jani Komino had a large storage room for literature connected to his home. When the Italian forces learned that the books had been printed in the United States, they became upset. “You are propagandists! The United States is against Italy!” they said. The zealous young brothers Thomai and Vasili Cama were arrested, and when it was learned that the books they were distributing had come from Komino, he too was arrested. Soon I was summoned by the police for interrogation.
“Do you know these men?” they asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Do you work with them?”
“Yes,” I answered. “We are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are not against the governments. We are neutral.”
“Have you been distributing this literature?”
When I responded affirmatively, they handcuffed me, and I was put in prison on July 6, 1940. There I joined five others from my village—Josef Kaci, Llukan Barko, Jani Komino, and the Cama brothers. While in prison we met three other Witnesses—Gori Naçi, Nikodhim Shyti, and Leonidas Pope. All nine of us were crammed into a 6- by 12-foot cell!
After a few days, we were chained together and taken to the city of Përmet. Three months later we were transferred to the prison in Tiranë and held for an additional eight months without a hearing.
Finally, we appeared before a military court. Brother Shyti and I were sentenced to 27 months, Brother Komino to 24 months, and the others were freed after 10 months. We were transferred to the Gjirokastër prison, where Brother Gole Flloko helped secure our release in 1943. Afterward our family settled in the city of Përmet, where I became the overseer of the small congregation.
Even though our work was banned and World War II raged in countries around us, we continued to do what we could to fulfill our commission to preach the Kingdom message. (Matthew 24:14) In 1944 a total of 15 Witnesses were in prison. Yet, during these difficult times, we never felt abandoned by Jehovah.
Tested on the Issue of Neutrality
Although the war ended in 1945, our difficulties continued and even grew worse. Compulsory voting was enforced during the election of December 2, 1946. Anyone who dared to abstain was considered an enemy of the State. Those in our congregation in Përmet began to ask, “What should we do?”
“If you trust in Jehovah,” I answered, “you don’t have to ask me what to do. You already know that Jehovah’s people are neutral. They are no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
Election day arrived, and government delegates came to our house. They began calmly, “Oh, let’s have a cup of coffee and talk. Do you know what today is?”
“Yes, today elections are being held,” I answered.
“You’d better hurry, or you’ll be late,” one officer said.
“No, I don’t plan to go. Our vote is for Jehovah,” I replied.
“All right, then come and vote for the opposition.”
I explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses are absolutely neutral. When our position became well-known, greater pressure was exerted upon us. We were ordered to stop holding our meetings, so we began to meet secretly.
Return to Our Home Village
In 1947 my family and I returned to Mbreshtan. Shortly afterward, on a frigid December afternoon, I was called to the office of the Sigurimi (secret police). “Do you know why I’ve called you?” the officer asked.
“I imagine it is because you have heard accusations against me,” I replied. “But the Bible says that the world would hate us, so accusations do not surprise me.”—John 15:18, 19.
“Don’t talk about the Bible to me,” he snapped back. “I’ll knock your head off.”
The officer and his men left but told me to stand out in the cold. After a while he called me back into his office and ordered me to stop holding meetings in our home. “How many live in your village?” he asked.
“One hundred and twenty,” I said.
“What religion are they?”
“I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“One hundred and twenty people go one way and you go another?” Then he ordered me to burn candles in the church. When I said that I would not do it, he began beating me with a rod. It was about one o’clock in the morning when I was finally released.
Literature Supply Cut Off
After World War II ended, we again began receiving The Watchtower through the mail, but eventually the magazines were no longer delivered. Then, one night at ten o’clock, I was summoned by the secret police. “A magazine in Greek has arrived,” I was told, “and we would like you to explain what it is all about.”
“I don’t know Greek very well,” I said. “My neighbor knows it better. Perhaps he can help you.”
“No, we want you to explain this,” an officer said as he pulled out some Greek copies of The Watchtower.
“Oh, these are mine!” I exclaimed. “Of course, I can explain this. You see, these magazines come from Brooklyn, New York. That is where the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses is located. I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it looks as if they made a mistake with the address. These magazines should have been sent to me, not to you.”
They would not give me the magazines, and from that time until 1991, well over 40 years later, we didn’t receive any Bible literature in Albania. During all those years, we continued to preach, using our Bibles only. About 20 Witnesses were in prison in 1949; some had five-year sentences.
In the 1950’s, people were ordered to carry documents showing that they supported the military. But Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to carry such documents. Because of this, Brother Komino and I spent another two months in jail.
During the time the State permitted the existence of certain religions, we had a degree of freedom. However, in 1967 all religion was banned, making Albania officially a totally atheistic country. The Witnesses continued to try to hold meetings, but it became very difficult. Some of us sewed a special pocket into our jacket lining so that we could hide a small Bible. Then we would go out into a field to read it.
Witnesses in Tiranë were caught, and three were sentenced to five years in remote labor camps. As a result, their families suffered. Those of us from small, isolated villages were not sent away because we were not considered a serious threat. But our neutrality led to the removal of our names from food lists. Hence, life was very hard. Also, two more of our children died. Yet we never felt abandoned by Jehovah.
Fear was prevalent in Albania. Everyone was watched, and the secret police wrote up reports on anyone who dared to express an opinion different from that of the ruling party. So we were very cautious about making written reports about our activity. We could not meet for spiritual encouragement in groups larger than two or three. Still, we never stopped preaching.
In an effort to cause confusion among the brothers, the secret police spread the rumor that a prominent Witness in Tiranë was a spy. This caused some to lose confidence and disturbed our unity somewhat. Because of being without any current Bible literature and having no contact with Jehovah’s visible organization, a few succumbed to fear.
In addition, the authorities spread the rumor that Spiro Vruho, a highly respected Christian elder in Albania, had committed suicide. “You see,” they said, “even Vruho has given up.” It later became evident that Brother Vruho had actually been murdered.
In 1975, Argjiro and I stayed with our son in Tiranë for a few months. During election time, the authorities in the city pressured us by threatening: “If you don’t vote, we will take your son’s job away.”
“My son has been at his job for 25 years,” I replied. “You have detailed personal records about him and his family. I have not voted for over 40 years. This information is normally in personnel records. If it is not, then your records are not in order. If it is in your records, then you have been disloyal to the party by allowing him to work for so many years.” Upon hearing this, the authorities said that if we returned to Mbreshtan, they would not press the issue.
In 1983 we moved from Mbreshtan to the city of Laç. Shortly thereafter, in 1985, the dictator died. He had ruled since those first obligatory elections in 1946. In time, his statue, which dominated the main square in Tiranë, and that of Stalin were taken down.
During the decades of the ban upon our activity, many Witnesses were brutally treated, and some were killed. One man told some Witnesses on the street: “During the time of the Communists, all of us had forsaken God. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses remained faithful to him despite the trials and hardships.”
As more freedom was granted, nine reported activity in the Christian ministry in June 1991. In June 1992, a month after the ban was lifted, 56 shared in the preaching work. Earlier that year we were overjoyed to have 325 attend the Memorial of Christ’s death. Since then the number preaching has grown to over 600, and a total of 3,491 attended the Memorial on April 14, 1995! In recent years it has been an indescribable joy for me to see so many young ones being added to our congregations.
Argjiro has remained faithful to Jehovah and has been loyal to me all these many years. While I was in prison or traveling in the preaching work, she patiently cared for our family’s needs without complaint. One of our sons and his wife were baptized in 1993. That made us so happy.
For God’s Kingdom Only
I am delighted to see Jehovah’s organization in Albania so unified and enjoying spiritual prosperity. I feel like the aged Simeon in Jerusalem who before he died was granted the precious privilege of seeing the long-promised Messiah. (Luke 2:30, 31) Now when I am asked which form of government I prefer, I say: “I prefer neither Communism nor capitalism. Whether the people or the State own the land is not important. Governments build roads, bring electricity to distant villages, and provide a measure of order. However, Jehovah’s government, his heavenly Kingdom, is the only solution to the difficult problems that face Albania as well as the rest of the world.”
What God’s servants are doing earth wide in preaching about God’s Kingdom is not the work of any human. This is God’s work. We are his servants. Although we have had many difficulties in Albania and were long cut off from Jehovah’s visible organization, we were never abandoned by him. His spirit was always here. He guided us every step of the way. I have seen this throughout my life.