ALBANIA is a small land with a rich, complex story. It has been traversed by tribes and nations, buffeted by world powers, and subjected to decades of radical isolation. While Jehovah’s Witnesses here have faced many challenges and much adversity, Jehovah God has sustained and blessed them with delightful spiritual prosperity. The following pages briefly portray their exciting history and show how “the hand of Jehovah” has supported his humble servants in this land.—Acts 11:21.
For centuries, foreign powers struggled for control of Albania, and with their struggle they brought religious conflict. By the early 1500’s, the area was religiously divided, with some people professing to be Muslim, others Orthodox, and still others Catholic.
The late 1800’s saw the rise of Albanian nationalism and the formation of many patriotic societies. Most people in Albania were peasants, and many blamed years of foreign intervention for their poverty. By 1900, autonomy and independence were burning issues that sparked wars with Greece, Serbia, and Turkey. Eventually, in 1912, Albania declared itself an independent country.
Later, government policy virtually eliminated the practice of organized religion. After World War II, Communist authorities abolished all religion and hailed Albania as the world’s first atheist state.
‘TAKING HOLD OF THE TRUTH WITH JOY’
Before 56 C.E., the apostle Paul reported that he and his companions had thoroughly preached the good news “as far as Illyricum,” a Roman province that included part of what is today Albania. (Rom. 15:19) It is quite likely that some in the region became true Christians at that time, for secular history reports that Christianity took root in Albania in the first century.
The first modern record of true worship in this general area was in 1921, when John Bosdogiannis wrote to Brooklyn Bethel from Crete about visiting the Bible study “class” in Ioannina, now a part of northern Greece. At about the same time, many Albanians settled in New England, in the United States, including Thanas (Nasho) Idrizi and Costa Mitchell. When they learned the truth, they immediately got baptized. Brother Idrizi went back to Gjirokastër, Albania, in 1922—the first Albanian to return to his country with Bible truths. Jehovah blessed his self-sacrificing spirit, and people began to respond. Soon other believing Albanians living in America followed him back home. In the meantime, Costa Mitchell continued preaching in the Albanian field in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Sokrat and Thanas Duli (Athan Doulis) were born in Albania but were taken to Turkey as boys. Sokrat returned to Albania in 1922. The following year, 14-year-old Thanas also went back, looking for his brother. “On arrival at our old home,” he wrote, “I did not immediately find my brother, for he was working some 125 miles [200 km] away. But I did find The Watch Tower, the Bible, and seven volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, as well as other pamphlets on Bible topics. Evidently, even in that remote mountain district, there were active Bible Students who had been to America and brought back with them a familiarity with the Bible and a love for it.” When the two finally met, Sokrat—by then a baptized Bible Student—did not hold back from teaching his brother, Thanas, the truth.
In 1924, the Romania office was assigned to oversee the newly opened field in Albania. Although the witness work was still limited, The Watch Tower of December 1, 1925, reported: “The Harp of God, also The Desirable Government and The World Distress booklets were translated and printed in the native tongue . . . A goodly number [have been] placed in the hands of the people, and the Albanians are taking hold of the truth with much joy.”
During that time, Albania was torn apart by political strife. What, though, about Jehovah’s servants? “In 1925 there were three organized congregations in Albania, as well as isolated Bible Students,” wrote Thanas. He also noted that the love among them was in sharp contrast to the strife, egotism, and competition of the people around them. While many Albanians were leaving the country, others who had learned the truth were returning, eager to teach their relatives about Christ’s newly established Kingdom.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, public talks were being delivered in the Albanian language on Sunday mornings to audiences of about 60 people. Those in attendance were serious students who loved to pore over the volumes of the Studies in the Scriptures. The book The Harp of God was also thoroughly studied, despite some translation errors. (For example, the title was first translated The Guitar of God.) Nevertheless, this book helped scores of Albanians learn Bible truth and build a strong faith.
“DON’T BOTHER THEM!”
In 1926, The Watch Tower reported that in Albania 13 had attended the Memorial of Christ’s death. “There are only about fifteen consecrated brethren in Albania,” said the 1927 Yearbook, “and these are doing their best to spread the message of the kingdom.” The Yearbook stated: “In America there are about thirty consecrated Albanian brethren, and these are anxious to assist their fellow countrymen to get a knowledge of the Truth.” The 15 brothers in Albania rejoiced to have 27 at the Memorial in 1927, more than twice the number that had attended the previous year.
During the late 1920’s, there was still much political turmoil in Albania. A government led by Fan Noli, an Orthodox bishop, briefly seized power, only to be toppled by President Ahmed Bey Zogu. He proclaimed Albania a kingdom in which he, as King Zog I, had the final word.
During 1928, Lazar Nasson, Petro Stavro, and two other brothers traveled from the United States to Albania to show the “Photo-Drama of Creation.” At the same time, a Catholic priest and an Orthodox priest from the United States were also in Albania, visiting King Zog I.
“Beware!” the Catholic priest cautioned Zog. “Men have come from America to cause you trouble.”
The Orthodox priest, however, disagreed. He knew the brothers because not long before this, they had left his very church in Boston. “If everyone in Albania were like these men,” he told Zog, “you wouldn’t have to lock your palace doors!”
“Then leave them alone,” replied Zog, “and don’t bother them!”
During that same year, Songs of Praise to Jehovah was printed in Boston in Albanian, and as a result, the brothers in Albania eventually learned the melodies and words of the songs it contained. Two favorites were “Fear Not, O Little Flock” and “To the Work!”—songs that fortified the brothers in the difficult years that followed.
Albanians in general do not mince words, and they appreciate frank speech. What others may consider to be a sharp conversation is to Albanians often normal, animated communication. Albanians who feel strongly about a certain matter not only eagerly share their opinions but also often speak and act on them with strong conviction. These traits have certainly influenced their reaction to the good news.
DIFFICULTIES PRODUCE POSITIVE RESULTS
On account of increasing political and economic problems, more Albanians were leaving the country, and some of them were learning the truth in New England and New York. Wherever there was a concentration of Albanians, the truth flourished. Eager for more literature, the brothers rejoiced to receive the booklets Kingdom and The Crisis in Albanian.
At the same time, authorities in Albania had confiscated some of our literature. In 1934, however, the Bulletin (now Our Kingdom Ministry) reported from Albania: “With great joy we write to you that an order has just been issued from the Secretary of Justice to all the provinces to the effect that all our literature is from now on free for circulation . . . All books and booklets which have been seized by the different prefects have been restored to the brethren . . . Now seven brethren have hired an automobile [and are] visiting the distant cities with books while the other brethren are working in places near by.” As a result, in 1935 and 1936, the brothers placed over 6,500 pieces of literature!
“BELIEVED TO BE THE MOST WIDESPREAD BROADCAST IN HISTORY”
“What is believed to be the most widespread broadcast in history will be attempted,” announced the British newspaper Leeds Mercury in early 1936. “The occasion will be a speech at Los Angeles by Judge Rutherford, the evangelist.” J. F. Rutherford, who took the lead among Jehovah’s Witnesses at the time, was to deliver a discourse that would be transmitted throughout the United States and Great Britain by radiotelephone and relayed to a number of European countries. “There is one European Country in which the speech will certainly not be heard,” concluded the Mercury article. “That is Albania, which has no telephone service.”
A few weeks after the discourse, however, Nicholas Christo in the Albanian congregation in Boston wrote to the world headquarters: “We wish to inform you that from communications recently received from Albania Judge Rutherford’s speech on ‘Separating the Nations’ was heard in that land, thus adding another country to the already long list of those that heard it. It was picked up at two different places . . . , apparently by shortwave transmission. . . . The friends were thrilled beyond expression at hearing Judge Rutherford’s voice.”
How were the Albanian publishers conducting their meetings before The Watchtower was published in Albanian? Most Albanians who embraced the truth were men who had attended Greek schools in southern Albania. So they had no difficulty studying the Greek Watchtower. Others studied it in Italian or French. While the meetings were held in Albanian, the brothers translated the literature as they went along.
In Boston too the Monday-night Albanian Watchtower Study was conducted with a Greek edition of the magazine. Nevertheless, many brothers taught their children well, and years later their sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great-grandchildren became full-time servants. In fact, the Albanian brothers became so well-known for their zealous witnessing that people began calling them ungjillorë, meaning “evangelizers.”
THOSE IN HIGH PLACES GET A WITNESS
In 1938, one year before King Zog’s monarchy was overthrown, two of his sisters traveled to Boston. In December the magazine Consolation (now Awake!) reported: “When the Albanian princesses came to Boston, two of us from the Albanian unit of the Boston company of Jehovah’s witnesses called at their hotel and presented them with a message of God’s kingdom. They received us very kindly.”
The two Witnesses were Nicholas Christo and his sister, Lina. They met not only the princesses but also five other dignitaries, including the then Albanian ambassador to the United States, Faik Konitza [Konica]. Prior to the meeting, an Albanian testimony card was read to the group explaining how extensively the truth was being preached among Albanians. “We are glad to inform you,” it stated in part, “that this message has also been proclaimed in Albania for many years and tens of thousands of books have been placed in the hands of the officials and the people of Albania for their enlightenment and comfort.”
Ambassador Konitza said to the princesses: “It is their wish that you use your influence that their preaching go on unmolested in Albania. Theirs is a ‘new’ faith, and they believe that the world [present world organization] will soon come to an end and after that Christ shall reign and then even the dead will be resurrected.”
How did Mr. Konitza know so much about the Kingdom message? Consolation explained that it was “because a witness, prior to . . . coming into the truth years ago, knew him well . . . and had on several occasions discussed the truth with him.”
WORLD WAR II BRINGS TESTS
During the 1930’s, Italy took control of Albania, and King Zog and his family fled the country in 1939. The invading Fascist military from Italy banned our literature and made it illegal for the 50 publishers to preach. In the summer of 1940, some 15,000 pieces of literature were confiscated. On August 6, in Këlcyrë, the Fascists arrested nine of the brothers and confined them in a 6-by-12-foot [2m x 4m] cell. Later they were moved to a prison in Tiranë. They were detained for eight months without a trial and then received sentences ranging from ten months to two and a half years.
Under these circumstances, prisoners had to get food from their families. But in this case the breadwinners who usually provided for their families were in jail. How would they provide for themselves?
“We got 30 ounces [800 g] of dry bread, seven pounds [3 kg] of coal, and a bar of soap every 15 days,” remembers Nasho Dori. “Jani Komino and I had enough money for two pounds [1 kg] of beans. We used the coal to boil the beans, which other prisoners then offered to buy by the spoonful. Pretty soon we had five big pots of beans going. We eventually had enough money to buy some meat.”
In the winter of 1940/1941, Greek armies invaded southern Albania and forced men there to join them. In one village when a brother refused, saying that he was neutral, the soldiers dragged him by the hair and beat him until he passed out.
“Are you still disobedient?” snapped the commanding officer when the brother regained consciousness.
“I am still neutral!” said the brother.
Frustrated, the soldiers let him go.
Several days later, the officer went to the home of the brother whom he had tortured and commended him for his courage. “A few days ago, I killed 12 Italians and received a medal,” he said. “But I have a guilty conscience, and I am ashamed to wear it. I keep the medal in my pocket because I know that it is a sign of criminal activity.”
NEW RULERS—THE SAME TESTS
Amid the battles and turmoil of the war, the Albanian Communist Party was stealthily gaining a foothold, despite the Fascist struggles to keep control. In 1943, soldiers fighting against the Communists captured a brother, threw him into a truck, took him to the battle lines, and handed him a rifle. He refused it.
“You are a Communist!” screamed the commander. “If you were a Christian, you would fight just like the priests do!”
The commander ordered the soldiers to kill the brother. Just as the firing squad was about to shoot, another officer came by and asked what was going on. Learning about the brother’s neutral stand, he gave a counterorder not to shoot, and the brother was set free.
In September 1943, the Fascists withdrew and the German armies invaded, killing 84 people in Tiranë in just one night. Hundreds were sent to concentration camps. Meanwhile, the brothers typed out messages of hope and encouragement from the Bible. When a person finished reading the typewritten message, he was asked to return it so that it could be offered to someone else. Then, using the few booklets they had hidden, the brothers just kept preaching. They preached with only parts of the Bible and did not have a complete Bible translation until the mid-1990’s.
Fifteen brothers had served prison sentences by 1945. Two of them had been sent to concentration camps, where one of them was tortured to death. Ironically, while the brothers in Albania were being persecuted for not joining the Axis forces, some Albanian brothers in the United States were imprisoned for not fighting against the Axis forces.
In war-torn Albania, confiscated literature was being held at a customs house. In the fury of a battle nearby, the building collapsed, flinging much of our literature into the street. Afterward, curious passersby picked up books and booklets and started reading them! The brothers did not waste any time collecting the remaining literature.
In 1944, German forces withdrew from Albania, and the Communist army established a provisional government. Immediately, the brothers applied for permission to reprint booklets, but their request was denied. “The Watchtower attacks the clergy,” the brothers were told, “and in Albania we still recognize the clergy.”
THE WAR ENDS BUT PERSECUTION CONTINUES
The new Communist administration imposed high taxes and took over property, factories, businesses, shops, and cinemas. People were not allowed to buy, sell, or rent land, and all produce had to be turned over to the State. On January 11, 1946, Albania declared itself the People’s Republic of Albania. The Communist Party won elections and established its government with Enver Hoxha as chief of state.
More schools were opened, and children were being taught to read, though the government did not want anyone to read any literature that did not promote Communism. Our publications were seized, and the government also confiscated the small supply of paper and the few typewriters that the brothers had.
Each time the brothers made attempts to get approval to publish literature, they were rebuffed and threatened. But they stood firm. “Jehovah has given us the responsibility to inform the Albanian people about his divine purpose,” they told the authorities, “and you are prohibiting us. Now the responsibility rests on your head.”
The implicit response from the government was: ‘Here in Albania we are the lords! We do not permit theocracy, and we cannot be bothered with you or your God, Jehovah, whom we do not acknowledge!’ Undaunted, the brothers continued sharing the good news wherever and whenever they could.
Voting became compulsory in 1946, and anyone who dared to abstain was considered an enemy of the State. Laws were passed that prohibited meetings, and it was a crime to preach. How did the brothers respond?
The brothers in Tiranë, who numbered about 15, organized a preaching campaign in 1947. Immediately they were arrested. Their Bibles were ripped up, and they were tortured. When released, they were ordered not to travel anywhere without police authority. Newspapers ridiculed Jesus and Jehovah.
The Albanian brothers in Boston learned about this, and on March 22, 1947, they wrote a respectful two-page letter to Enver Hoxha in behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Albania. They explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses are no threat to the government and pointed out that religious opposers had fomented false accusations because our publications rightly expose their unchristian practices. The letter concluded: “When the Albanian delegation to the United Nations under the direction of Mr. Kapo made a visit to Boston, we visited his hotel. Mr. Kapo graciously and genuinely received us and without bias listened to our message.” Hysni Kapo was for years one of the highest-ranking authorities in Albania. Despite this appeal, problems in Albania only increased.
In 1947, Albania became allied with the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and had conflicts with Greece. The following year, Albania cut ties with Yugoslavia and drew closer to the Soviet Union. Anyone who did not support the government’s ideology was ostracized. The brothers’ neutral stand elicited increased opposition and antagonism.
For example, in 1948, six brothers and sisters were gathered for the Memorial in a small village. The police burst into the meeting and beat the publishers for hours before they let them go. A couple of weeks later, the police arrested the brother who had given the Memorial talk and kept him standing for 12 hours. At midnight, the chief of police snapped, “Why did you break the law?”
“We cannot put the State’s law above the law of the Lord!” responded the brother.
Incensed, the chief slapped the brother, asking, “What are you doing?” when he saw the brother turning his head to the side.
“I told you before that we are Christians,” replied the brother. “Jesus taught us that when someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek.”
“Because your Lord thus commands,” snarled the infuriated chief, “I will not obey him, and I will not hit you anymore! Get out of here!”
“I WILL KEEP PREACHING”
Sotir Ceqi was a devout Orthodox who lived in Tiranë. As a child he had tuberculosis of the bone and suffered excruciating pain in his legs. When he was 17 years old, he became so depressed that he decided to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. Shortly before he was about to do so, Leonidha Pope, a relative, visited him. Not knowing what Sotir was planning, Leonidha told him that Jesus cured the sick and that the earth would be a paradise. He also gave Sotir a copy of the Greek Scriptures, which Sotir immediately began to read.
“It was like water poured into me,” said Sotir. “I had found the truth!”
Within a few days and without further contact with Leonidha, Sotir reasoned: ‘The Bible says that Jesus preached. The apostles and disciples all preached. Obviously, that is what I must do.’
So, Sotir set out to preach. With the Greek Scriptures in one hand and his crutch in the other, he courageously went from door to door.
During those years the Sigurimi, or Directorate of State Security, was responsible for protecting the nation’s security. Ever alert to any apparent threat to Communism, they could hardly fail to notice Sotir’s bold preaching. They arrested him, held him for hours, beat him, and ordered him not to preach.
When Sotir was released, he contacted Leonidha, who took him to Spiro Karajani, a doctor who had learned the truth some years earlier. Besides medical attention, Spiro helped Sotir get a better understanding of the truth.
“If you are arrested again,” Spiro advised Sotir, “before you sign anything, count every word and every line. Draw a line after their words. Don’t leave a space. Read everything carefully. Be sure that what you sign is what you said.”
Just two days later, the police caught Sotir preaching again. At the police station, the officers ordered him to sign a statement. As he was about to sign, he remembered Spiro’s advice. Despite pressure from the police to sign quickly, Sotir took the time to read every word.
“I am sorry,” he said, “I cannot sign this. I did not say these words. If I signed this document, it would be a lie, and I cannot lie.”
The police responded by making a whip out of a rope, which they used to beat Sotir for several hours. When he still would not cooperate, they forced him to hold two wires and repeatedly gave him excruciating electric shocks.
“When I could hardly stand the pain,” Sotir later recalled, “I prayed with tears. Suddenly, the door swung open. There stood the chief officer. He glanced over and quickly turned his head away. ‘Stop!’ he ordered. ‘You’re not supposed to do that!’” They were all fully aware that torture was against the law. The police stopped the torture, but they did not stop putting pressure on Sotir to sign the document. Still, he refused.
“You win!” they eventually said. Reluctantly, they wrote down the statement that Sotir himself had made in which he gave a fine witness. They handed him the document. Despite hours of beatings and shock treatment, Sotir read every word carefully. When a sentence ended halfway across the page, he drew a line at the end of the sentence.
“Where in the world did you learn that?” asked the amazed officers.
“Jehovah taught me not to sign what I did not say,” replied Sotir.
“OK, so who gave you this?” asked an officer, handing Sotir a piece of bread and a piece of cheese. By then it was 9:00 p.m., and Sotir was ravenous, not having eaten all day. “Was it Jehovah? No. We did.”
“Jehovah has many ways of providing,” Sotir replied. “He just softened your hearts.”
“We’ll let you go,” said the frustrated officers, “but if you preach again, you know what will happen.”
“Then do not let me go, because I will keep preaching.”
“You’d better not tell anyone what happened here!” commanded the officer.
“If they ask,” responded Sotir, “I cannot lie.”
“Just get out of here!” barked the police.
Sotir was one of many who were tortured that way. It was only after this faith-testing incident that Sotir was baptized.
For years, mail was censored and only sketchy reports trickled out of Albania. As travel and meeting attendance became increasingly risky, brothers around the country started to lose contact with one another. With no central organization, it was difficult to get a clear picture of what was happening. Nevertheless, the number of those who embraced the truth continued to grow. In 1940 there were 50 brothers and sisters in Albania, and in 1949 there were 71.
THEOCRATIC INCREASE AMID POLITICAL TENSION
The 1950’s saw even tighter controls enforced on all aspects of life. Political tensions between Albania and Greece were mounting. Diplomatic relations with England and the United States were nonexistent. Even links with the Soviet Union were strained. Albania was withdrawing into an isolationist shell, closed to the outside world with all communications closely monitored.
Nevertheless, two of the brothers had limited success sending letters and postcards to the brothers in Switzerland. The Swiss brothers replied in French or Italian, using coded language. By means of these postcards, the Albanian brothers learned about the Nuremberg convention that had been held in 1955. News of the freedom enjoyed by the German brothers after the end of Hitler’s regime encouraged the Albanian brothers to remain steadfast in the faith.
By 1957, Albania was reporting 75 publishers. Although exact figures were not available, the Memorial was commemorated “by a goodly number,” reported the 1958 Yearbook, and “the Albanian brothers are still preaching.”
The 1959 Yearbook reported: “These faithful witnesses of Jehovah are continuing to do what they can. They have spoken the truth plainly to others and have even tried to publish some things. They are grateful for the meat in due season that has reached them on occasions, but evidently the communistic rulers have closed down all communications from the outside world.” The report concluded: “While the rulers of the land may separate the brothers in Albania from the rest of the New World society, they cannot cut off the operation of God’s holy spirit upon them.”
At that time everyone was expected to carry a military identity card. Those who refused would lose their job or be imprisoned. As a result, Nasho Dori and Jani Komino again spent some months in prison. Although a few feared losing their jobs and compromised, a solid core of loyal brothers observed the Memorial in 1959, and many brothers and sisters were still preaching fearlessly.
In 1959 the Ministry of Justice was dissolved, and lawyers were no longer allowed to practice. The Communist Party itself made and applied all laws. Those who did not vote in elections were considered to be the enemy. Fear and suspicion abounded.
The Albanian brothers sent out messages indicating how trying things were but expressing their determination to remain loyal. In the meantime, the world headquarters in Brooklyn kept trying to make contact with the brothers in Albania. John Marks, who was born in southern Albania but was living in the United States, was asked to try to obtain a visa for Albania.
A year and a half later, John succeeded in getting a visa to enter Albania, although his wife, Helen, did not. John arrived at Durrës in February 1961 and traveled to Tiranë. There he met his sister, Melpo, who had shown interest in the truth. She helped John make contact with the brothers the very next day.
John talked with the brothers at length and gave them some literature that he had concealed in a secret compartment of his suitcase. The brothers were thrilled. They had not had a visit from brothers outside of Albania in over 24 years.
John calculated that there were 60 brothers in five towns and a few others in smaller villages. In Tiranë, the brothers were trying to meet secretly once a week on Sundays to review the publications they had kept hidden since 1938.
With so little contact with the organization for so long, the Albanian brothers had to be brought up-to-date on organizational matters and current truths. For example, both brothers and sisters were conducting meetings, and sisters even offered prayers. John later wrote: “The brothers were rather skeptical and concerned about how the sisters would accept the adjusted arrangements, so they asked me to explain them to the sisters privately, which I did. I was glad to see that they accepted them.”
Despite their poverty, these faithful servants zealously supported the Kingdom work. For instance, John took note of two elderly brothers from Gjirokastër who had saved “from their very little money and had accumulated a certain amount for donations to the Society.” Each one had saved over 100 dollars in gold coins.
The brothers in Tiranë appreciated receiving the booklet Preaching and Teaching in Peace and Unity, which provided direction on how the congregations were to function, even under ban. Then, in March, John held the Memorial in Tiranë at the home of Leonidha Pope with 37 present. Right after the talk, John took a boat back to Greece.
After the brothers at headquarters considered John’s report on his visit to Albania, they assigned Leonidha Pope, Sotir Papa, and Luçi Xheka to care for the Tiranë Congregation and the work in Albania. Spiro Vruho was appointed as a circuit overseer. He was to visit congregations and meet with the brothers every evening, giving talks and discussing the publications. The organization was making every effort to help the brothers in Albania grow spiritually stronger and be brought up-to-date.
Needless to say, with mail being carefully censored, the organization could not send a formal letter providing this direction. Instead, John conveyed the information to the brothers in Albania little by little, using a code that referred to pages in the publications. Soon, reports came back showing that the brothers had got the point precisely. The three brothers in Tiranë were functioning as a Country Committee, and Spiro was visiting congregations regularly.
The Albanian brothers had to find novel ways of sending field service reports to headquarters. One way was on postcards sent to specific brothers abroad. Then, using a fine-tipped pen, the reports were written in code under the stamp. For example, they would write the page number in the Preaching and Teaching booklet where the subject “publishers” was considered. Next to that they would write the number of publishers who reported for the month. For many years the brothers abroad used similar methods to communicate with the brothers in Albania.
A GOOD START—THEN A BLOW
Though the Country Committee was working hard to promote pure worship, trouble was soon to come. In 1963, Melpo Marks wrote her brother John that two of the three brothers who made up the Country Committee, Leonidha Pope and Luçi Xheka, were “away from their families” and that meetings were not being held. Later came word that Spiro Vruho was in the hospital and that Leonidha Pope and Luçi Xheka were sick, referring to Acts 8:1, 3, where Saul of Tarsus sent Christians to prison. What was happening?
Leonidha Pope, Luçi Xheka, and Sotir Ceqi worked in a factory where members of the Communist Party held talks for all the workers, promoting Communist ideals. One day during a talk about evolution, Leonidha and Luçi stood up and said: “No! Man did not come from monkeys!” The next day both were taken away from their families and sent to work as exiles in distant cities, a punishment Albanians called internim (internment). Luçi was sent to the mountains of Gramsh. Because they considered Leonidha to be “in charge,” he was sent to the rugged, cold mountains of Burrel. It would be seven years before he returned to his home in Tiranë.
By August 1964, meetings had essentially stopped. The little information that trickled out indicated that the brothers were under strict surveillance by the Sigurimi. One message beneath a stamp read: “Pray to the Lord for us. Seizure of literature house to house. They do not allow us to study. Three persons in internim.” At first, it was thought that brothers Pope and Xheka had been released, since they were the only ones who knew about writing under stamps. However, it later turned out that Luçi’s wife, Frosina, had communicated that message.
The brothers who took the lead had been sent away. The vigilant eye of the Sigurimi did not let the others communicate with one another. Nonetheless, the brothers in internim gave a remarkable witness to whomever they met. The people of Gramsh would say: “The ungjillorë [evangelizers] are here. They don’t go into the military, but they build our bridges and fix our generators.” These loyal brothers gained a glowing reputation that remained for decades.
AN ATHEISTIC STATE IS BORN
On the political front, Albania severed ties with the Soviet Union and became more closely allied with China. Communist ideology was gaining such momentum that some Albanians even dressed in outfits similar to those worn by Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung. By 1966, Enver Hoxha abolished military ranks, and in a climate of mistrust, no opposing opinions were tolerated.
State-run newspapers began printing articles against religion, calling it “a dangerous element.” Then, in Durrës, a group of students used a bulldozer to destroy a church. In quick succession, in city after city, other religious buildings were destroyed. In 1967, with the government fanning the flames of antireligious sentiment, Albania became the first completely atheistic country. Whereas other Communist states kept religion under control, Albania did not even tolerate it.
Some Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic priests were imprisoned because of their political activities. Numerous priests fared better because they capitulated and simply stopped being religious. A few historic religious buildings were turned into museums. No religious insignia were permitted—no crosses or icons, no mosques or minarets. The word “God” was used only in a derogatory way. These developments made the situation difficult for the brothers.
During the 1960’s, some of the brothers fell asleep in death. The remaining scattered publishers still spoke up in defense of the truth as much as they could. But even people who had some interest were too afraid to listen.
LOVE FOR THE TRUTH NEVER GREW DIM
In 1968, Gole Flloko wrote to John and Helen Marks about his failing health. It was illegal to preach, and meetings were banned. But Gole, now in his 80’s, described how he regularly spoke to friends and to people he met in the market, the park, or coffee shops. Not long thereafter, Gole died faithful. Like so many others in Albania, nothing could extinguish his irrepressible love for Jehovah and the truth.
With advancing age, Spiro Vruho could no longer make circuit visits as he had. Then, early in 1969, he was found dead at the bottom of a well. The Sigurimi reported that he had committed suicide. But was this true?
Although Spiro supposedly left a suicide note saying that he was depressed, the note was not in his handwriting. Also, before his death, Spiro was confirmed to be in good spirits. In addition, there were telltale black marks around his neck, indicating some kind of assault. No ropes were found at the well on which he could have hung himself, and there was no water in his lungs.
Years later, it came to light that Spiro had been told that if he did not vote, he and his family would be put in prison, and their food supplies would be cut off. The brothers in Tiranë found out that Spiro was killed the day before elections, then thrown into the well. This was not the last time false reports of suicides were used against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A DECADE OF ENFORCED ISOLATION
In 1971, Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world rejoiced when more members were added to the Governing Body in Brooklyn, New York. Great was the anticipation when the arrangement for appointing elders and ministerial servants was announced. It was years, though, before our brothers in Albania heard about these organizational adjustments. When they did, it was because tourists from the United States made brief contact with Llopi Bllani, a sister in Tiranë. They learned that no meetings were being held, and they were told that there were only three active Witnesses in the city, though there were actually many more.
Kosta Dabe had been in Greece since 1966 trying to get a visa permitting him to return to his native Albania. At 76 years of age, he wanted to teach the truth to his children. Unable to get a visa, Kosta handed in his U.S. passport at the Albanian border and entered the country, knowing that he might never be able to leave.
In 1975, an Albanian couple from the United States visited Albania as tourists. They wrote that the surveillance was “tighter than ever” and that Jehovah’s Witnesses were being closely watched. Foreigners were accompanied everywhere by official tour guides, many of whom were part of the Sigurimi. After the foreigners left, the Sigurimi would focus attention on those who were contacted. Tourists themselves were regarded with suspicion and were unwelcome. People were fearful of foreigners.
In November 1976 a letter from Kosta Dabe reported that five attended the Memorial in Vlorë. He knew that in Përmet and Fier, one Witness in each city held the Memorial alone. In Tiranë, two joined at one location and four at another. So, from what he knew, at least 13 were at the Memorial in 1976.
Years later, Kulla Gjidhari remembered how she observed the Memorial: “In the morning I made bread and took out wine. That evening I closed the curtains and got out the Bible I had hidden behind the toilet. I read in Matthew chapter 26 how Jesus instituted the Memorial. I prayed, held up the bread, and then put it down. I read some more from Matthew, prayed again, held up the wine, and then put it down. After that, I sang a song. I was alone physically, but I knew I was united with my brothers all over the world!”
Kulla had little family. Years earlier Spiro Karajani had adopted her when she was young, and she lived with him and his daughter Penellopi in Tiranë. He died about 1950.
INCREASING ISOLATION FOR ALBANIA
A new era of isolation began in 1978 when Albania cut ties with China. A new constitution aimed to make Albania completely self-sufficient, with strict guidelines governing all aspects of life, including the theater, the ballet, literature, and art. Classical music that was considered seditious was banned. Only authorized writers were permitted to own private typewriters. Anyone caught tuning in to television programs from other countries would be interrogated by the Sigurimi.
In this climate of severe repression, brothers from Austria, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States entered as tourists in an effort to contact the local brothers. The few who were contacted truly appreciated those efforts. Yet, the brothers in general remained isolated from one another, so that few knew if a visitor was coming.
In 1985, Albanians mourned the death of the long-term dictator Enver Hoxha. Government and social changes were soon to be made. By the following year, John Marks had died and his widow, Helen, in her mid-60’s, decided to visit Albania. “If anything happens to you while you’re there,” the authorities told her when she picked up her visa, “do not expect help from the outside world.”
Helen’s two-week trip was a landmark for the handful of publishers in Albania. Helen finally met Melpo, John’s sister, who had heard about the truth from her brother 25 years earlier. Though still not baptized, Melpo was a key contact for the organization for many years.
Helen also met with Leonidha Pope and Vasil Gjoka, who was baptized in 1960. She learned about seven Witnesses who were still alive in various parts of the country. She gave the brothers in Albania up-to-date facts about the organization and how the work was moving forward in other Communist lands. Helen cautiously preached informally to those she met. She noted, though, that economic problems abounded in Albania.
“To get a small ration of milk,” she said, “it was normal to wait in line from three o’clock in the morning. Many stores had no supplies.”
In 1987 the branches in Austria and Greece combined efforts to get other visitors into Albania. In 1988 a couple from Austria, Peter Malobabic and his wife, traveled in as tourists and gave Melpo a blouse, which she was delighted to receive. She was far more thrilled, though, to find the book “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie” hidden inside the blouse.
Later that year, another couple contacted Melpo with more literature, but they had to be extremely cautious because the Sigurimi was watching them like hawks. Within the few minutes that the visitors were unaccompanied by their so-called official guides, they could make only brief contact. They learned that Leonidha was ill and that many other brothers in Albania had grown old and could not move about freely.
CONDITIONS BEGIN TO CHANGE
The political scene was changing in 1989. The death sentence for attempting to escape from Albania was abolished. Helen again visited that summer. She spent hours transmitting information and instructions entrusted to her. Vasil Gjoka made brief visits to the brothers as well as he could.
The Sigurimi heard that Helen was visiting there and paid her a visit. Instead of causing problems, they said that they wanted a gift from America. How quickly people changed!
The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, and it took no time for the effects to ripple into Albania. In March 1990 a riot against Communism broke out in Kavajë. Thousands of people flooded foreign embassies in Tiranë, trying to leave the country. Students demanded reforms and went on hunger strikes.
In February 1991, a massive crowd toppled the 30-foot [10 meter]-high statue of Enver Hoxha, which had dominated Tiranë’s Skanderbej Square for years. As far as the people were concerned, the dictator was gone. During March, some 30,000 Albanians hijacked ships from Durrës and Vlorë and sailed to Italy as refugees. That month, multiparty elections were held for the first time in years. Even though the Communist Party won, it was clear that the government was losing its grip.
Helen Marks made a final visit to Albania in August 1991, but this time she found that conditions had changed. Just one month earlier, the government had opened an office of the secretary of religion, legalizing religious activities once again after 24 years. The brothers lost no time in increasing their preaching activity and organizing congregation meetings.
Vasil Gjoka traveled to Greece and spent time at the branch office learning how to organize the preaching work. Because his Greek was limited, the brothers who knew a little Albanian taught Vasil as best they could. Back in Tiranë, Vasil conscientiously applied what he had learned and tried to organize the two weekly meetings better, one of which was a study of the recently released Albanian edition of The Watchtower.
“Previously, the meetings were opened with song and prayer,” recalls one brother, “using the songs the older brothers had taught us. We enjoyed the study, then closed with a song—or two, or three, or more! Eventually, we closed with prayer.”
In October 1991 and February 1992, Thomas Zafiras and Silas Thomaidis brought literature to Albania from Greece. They met with the brothers in Tiranë and with unbaptized publishers in Berat and compiled lists of the many interested persons who needed help. After decades of spiritual isolation, the populace was spiritually famished. In Berat, for instance, interested ones were holding meetings, even though there were no baptized brothers in the city. What could be done to fill this spiritual need?
AN UNEXPECTED ASSIGNMENT
Michael and Linda DiGregorio were missionaries serving in the Dominican Republic. Michael’s grandparents were among the Albanians who got baptized in Boston in the 1920’s, and he had a working knowledge of Albanian. So when the DiGregorios decided to visit relatives in Albania in 1992, they asked the Governing Body if it was advisable for them to meet with brothers during their three-day visit. To their surprise, the Governing Body asked them to stay in Albania for three months to help organize the preaching work.
At the branch in Rome, brothers from Greece and Italy briefed the DiGregorios on the situation in Albania and showed them photographs of some of the Albanian brothers, including Vasil Gjoka. When the DiGregorios flew to Tiranë in April 1992, Albanians from abroad were once again welcome in the country. Nevertheless, there was still much civil unrest, and people were anxious about the future.
As Michael and Linda walked out of the airport, Michael’s family rushed up to greet them. At the same time, Michael recognized Vasil Gjoka, who had also been advised that the DiGregorios were arriving that day.
“You go with the family,” Michael said to Linda, “and I’ll be right back.”
After embracing Linda, the relatives grabbed the DiGregorios’ luggage and hurried toward the automobiles, while Michael went quickly to Vasil.
“I will be back in Tiranë on Sunday,” Michael said hastily to Vasil, “and then I will find you.”
Koço, a member of Michael’s family in Albania, who did not know that Michael and Linda were Jehovah’s Witnesses, rushed up to him and said: “What are you doing? We do not talk to strangers!”
Winding their way through the country to Korçë, the DiGregorios realized how different this was from the Caribbean. “Everything was old, brown or gray, and covered with dust,” recalls Michael. “Barbed wire was everywhere. People looked dejected. There were hardly any automobiles around. Windows were broken. Farmers worked the land by hand. Not much had changed from my grandparents’ day! It felt as if we had stepped back in time!”
“YOUR TRIP WAS GUIDED BY GOD”
Koço had something that he had kept hidden for years, and he wanted to show it to Michael. When Michael’s grandmother died, the family in Boston wrote a long letter to the family in Albania. The first ten pages covered mostly family matters, but near the end of the letter, the family had explained about the resurrection.
“The police checked the letter,” Koço told Michael, “and read the first few pages. Then they got bored and said: ‘Take it! It’s only family stuff!’ When I read the last part, I was so happy to hear something about God!”
Michael then revealed that he and Linda were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he gave Koço a thorough witness.
As people did in Bible times, Albanians feel an obligation to care for and protect their guests. So Koço insisted on accompanying Michael and Linda to Tiranë.
“In Tiranë, we could not find Vasil’s home,” Michael remembers, “because there were no street signs. So Koço suggested that we ask at the post office.”
“When he returned from the post office,” continues Linda, “Koço seemed stunned, and we drove straight to Vasil’s apartment.”
Later, Koço explained: “When I went into the post office and asked about Vasil, they said: ‘That man is a saint! Do you know what he has been through? There is not a more noble man in Tiranë!’ When I heard that, I knew that your trip was guided by God! I cannot stand in the way!”
GETTING ORGANIZED IN TIRANË
Vasil was delighted to see the DiGregorios, and they spoke for hours. Only at the end of the evening did Vasil reveal that Jani Komino, who had been imprisoned with Nasho Dori, had died that very morning. Why had Vasil stayed at home and missed the funeral of this dear brother and close friend? “Because,” he explained, “someone sent by the Governing Body was coming.”
Michael and Linda needed to stay in Tiranë, but the government in power at that time did not allow foreigners to live in the city. What could they do?
“We put the matter in Jehovah’s hands,” said Michael, “and eventually we found a small apartment and moved in.”
“The owners kept the key,” remembers Linda, “and came in and out at will. In addition, we had to go through someone else’s apartment to get to ours. But at least our place was out of the way, and we preferred not to be in the public eye.”
The DiGregorios listened for hours as the older brothers in Tiranë told about the trials they had endured. One of the problems, though, was that some of the older ones were suspicious of one another.
“Individually they were loyal,” recalls Michael, “but they wondered if the others had been faithful. Nevertheless, even though some kept their distance from one another, they did not keep away from us. After calmly discussing the matter, they agreed that the most important thing was to make Jehovah’s name known. They were united in their love for Jehovah and were excited about the future.”
The lack of a functioning congregation was evident. For example, when Kulla Gjidhari and Stavri Ceqi first saw the booklet Examining the Scriptures Daily, they flipped through the pages with no idea what it was.
“Oh, Manna!” Stavri suddenly exclaimed, referring to the book Daily Heavenly Manna for the Household of Faith, which was used back when Stavri learned the truth.
“By the way,” asked Kulla, “how’s the president, Brother Knorr, doing? Is his friend Fred Franz OK?” That showed how many years had slipped by since they became isolated!
WHAT A MEMORIAL THAT WAS!
The 9-by-12-foot [3 x 4 m] room where the brothers normally held their meetings in Vasil Gjoka’s home was too small for the Memorial. Instead, the 105 in attendance gathered in a room that used to be headquarters for the Communist Party’s newspaper. This marked the first time in Tiranë that the Memorial was not held in a private home. Though there were only 30 publishers in Albania in 1992, they rejoiced to have 325 at the Memorial.
The group of interested persons in Tiranë was increasing steadily, with meeting attendance in Vasil’s apartment up to 40. Some new ones wanted to become unbaptized publishers, and others wanted to get baptized. The brothers spent many hours meeting with those who wanted to get baptized. Because the book Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry had not been published in Albanian, each question had to be translated orally for the baptism candidates. Intensive study was conducted with some newer ones to be sure they understood the truth. Though none had ever had an actual Bible study, it was amazing how good their Bible knowledge was.
LEGAL RECOGNITION AT LAST!
Over the next weeks, the brothers spent many hours with lawyers and officials, trying to get the Kingdom-preaching work legally registered. A group of brothers and interested persons in Tiranë had already submitted a formal request, but a new government had come to power, so persistence was needed.
“Everything was done on foot,” recalls one brother. “While walking in the city, we would happen to meet the minister of human rights, the minister of the interior, the minister of justice, the chief of police, members of the constitutional court, and other influential men. These men were kind and were pleased that things were loosening up. Most of them already knew about the ungjillorë. There was no doubt that Jehovah’s Witnesses were alive and active in Albania.”
For weeks, officials had said that the government would grant legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but nothing materialized. There was a breakthrough, though, when Angelo Felio, a brother from the United States with Albanian background, visited his family in Tiranë. While in Albania, Angelo went with the brothers to meet with the legal adviser of the government minister who was authorized to grant legalization. The adviser was happy to learn that Angelo’s family was from her region of Albania.
“What village is your family from?” she asked Angelo. Amazingly, it was her own village.
“What is your family’s name?” she asked.
Surprisingly, Angelo turned out to be her relative, but their families had lost contact many years earlier.
“I was already impressed by your charter and planned to help,” she said. “But now, I am obliged to help because you are family!”
A few days later, the legal adviser handed the brothers Order No. 100, granting legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Albania. At last, the worship of the true God, Jehovah, which had been under ban since 1939, was now legally recognized and unrestricted! “There are no words to describe the feelings we had in our hearts that day,” the DiGregorios said.
A couple of weeks later, the branch in Greece, which had oversight of Albania, sent Robert Kern to visit Tiranë. Robert announced to the local brothers the registration of the work and the formation of the Tiranë Congregation. He also informed them that their congregation’s territory was “the whole country of Albania.” Organized door-to-door preaching needed to proceed in real earnest. In Tiranë, a three-bedroom house was rented for a missionary home and office, with a large adjoining room that could be used as the first Kingdom Hall.
AN ISOLATED SHEEP IS FOUND
“Are there any Witnesses in Vlorë?” the brothers asked when discussing the advancement of the preaching work in Albania. Some knew only of an old woman who was reportedly senile. Then a woman came to the office saying that she and her family were ungjillorë and that someone named Areti had taught them the truth in Vlorë. So brothers from Tiranë made a trip to Vlorë to find Areti.
Areti Pina, a short elderly lady, invited the visitors into her home, but she seemed somewhat reserved. When they explained that they were her spiritual brothers, it produced absolutely no reaction.
“Can I ask you some questions?” Areti suddenly said after a few minutes. Then she started firing questions at them: “Do you believe in the Trinity? What is God’s name? Do you believe in hellfire? What happens when we die? What about the earth? How many will go to heaven?”
The brothers answered each of the questions.
“Do you preach?” Areti then asked.
“Yes,” said one brother, “we preach.”
“But,” she responded, “how do you preach?”
“We preach from house to house,” replied the brother.
Areti burst into tears, leaped to her feet, and embraced the brother.
“Now I know that you are my brothers!” she exclaimed. “Only Jehovah’s people preach from house to house!”
Protestant groups in Vlorë had heard that Areti was a religious person and had asked her to join them. “But I did not want anything to do with Babylon the Great!” she explained to the brothers. “So I needed to make sure that you were my real spiritual family!”
Areti was baptized back in 1928 at the age of 18. She traveled up and down mountains on foot, preaching with Bible in hand. Although Areti had lost contact with the brothers for years, she kept preaching faithfully on her own.
“Jehovah is wonderful,” said Areti through her tears. “He never forgot me!”
People thought Areti was crazy for keeping faith in God under Albania’s ironclad totalitarian rule. Yet, Areti was anything but senile. Her mind was as clear as ever!
SO MUCH TO DO!
Now that our work was legally registered, there was much to do to develop Kingdom interests in Albania. The brothers needed to be brought up-to-date and strengthened spiritually. Publications were needed in Albanian for the brothers and for the field. And there was an urgent need for more preachers. Who could help?
In 1992 special pioneers arrived from Italy and Greece and attended an Albanian-language course. At the same time, a small team began translating our literature. Even though at times there was no electricity for as long as 21 days in a row, the brothers kept a good sense of humor and busied themselves with the work at hand.
There was much menial work too. When it was cold, the missionary home needed to be heated. But it was not possible to buy wood in Albania. How were the brothers going to keep warm? Brothers from Greece came to the rescue by sending a supply of large pieces of wood and an electric saw. There was still a problem, though, because the opening in the woodstove was tiny, and there was no electricity to operate the saw. Fortunately, one of the brothers had a friend on the other side of Tiranë who owned an ax. Because there were no buses, it took two hours to get the ax to the missionary home, and it had to be returned before dark. “We all took turns chopping wood while we had the ax,” recalls one of the missionaries, “but we managed to keep warm!”
In the midst of all the wood chopping and the language courses, the Albanian translation team enjoyed the first of many visits by Nick and Amy Ahladis from Translation Services, now in Patterson, New York. Their kind and balanced approach was an enormous help to the new translators, who learned quickly and did good work. The Italy branch printed the literature and shipped it into Albania.
All the hard work was more than worth it in view of the wonderful response the publishers were enjoying in the field ministry. New publishers too were ablaze with zeal. Lola, for example, had just begun publishing, yet she spent 150, 200, or even more hours each month in the ministry! When advised to be careful and to pace herself in service, Lola replied: “My life has been a waste until now! What else is worth my time?”
THE WORK FORGES AHEAD
March 1993 was a historic month for Albania. The special pioneers began new assignments in Berat, Durrës, Gjirokastër, Shkodër, Tiranë, and Vlorë; The Watchtower of March 1 was the first issue prepared by the Albanian translation team; the brothers had their first Theocratic Ministry School, thus all five meetings were held for the first time; the first Albanian edition of Our Kingdom Ministry came out; and the first special assembly day was held in Tiranë’s Skanderbej Square at the Ballet-Opera Theater.
Delegates arrived from Greece and Italy to enjoy this historic special assembly day. Nasho Dori opened the assembly with prayer, thanking Jehovah for all the blessings they were enjoying. The attendance reached 585, and 41 were baptized! Among them were children and grandchildren of brothers who had served Jehovah faithfully in Albania.
Great was the excitement in 1993 over having a district convention in Albania for the first time. There were more than 600 people in attendance, with delegates from Austria, France, Greece, Italy, and Switzerland. How thrilled the Albanian brothers were that after having been isolated for so long, they could associate freely with so many brothers from so many lands!
For the sake of better organization, the Governing Body appointed a Country Committee made up of Nasho Dori, Vito Mastrorosa, and Michael DiGregorio to serve under the supervision of the Italy branch. One of their first priorities was to find property to house the office and the growing translation team.
Among the next group of special pioneers who started learning Albanian was Stefano Anatrelli from Italy. After five weeks of language training, he was called into the office and told: “We’d like you to visit the special pioneers and groups as a circuit overseer.”
“But I can’t even speak Albanian properly!” was Stefano’s first reaction. Yet, he viewed this assignment as a wonderful privilege. After getting some help preparing a couple of talks, Stefano set off to the far-flung corners of Albania. About 30 years had elapsed since Spiro Vruho had visited the brothers as circuit overseer during the ban. In 1995, Stefano was appointed as a member of the Country Committee.
In 1994, a third group of pioneers, from Italy, came to Albania. The new Albanian publishers were stirred up by the zealous spirit of all those pioneers. At the end of the 1994 service year, there were 354 publishers engaging in the preaching work.
However, many publishers had emotional challenges. Changing from an extremely oppressive system to a completely free society was not easy. In order to survive under totalitarianism, they had to be careful that they never openly expressed their feelings to others—especially not to foreigners. Nevertheless, the foreign brothers and sisters understood this and patiently worked to gain the trust of the newer ones.
That same year the elderly brothers and sisters as well as the new publishers were delighted to meet Theodore Jaracz, the first member of the Governing Body to visit Albania. Over 600 gathered for a talk he gave in Tiranë.
In the meantime, property had been purchased in Tiranë for an office. In less than six months, a team of hardworking foreign brothers remodeled an old villa into modern offices and constructed a residence for 24 people. The dedication was held on May 12, 1996, when Milton Henschel of the Governing Body visited Albania.
THEY PREACHED ALONE
A young man in Korçë, named Arben, read the Bible literature his sister had sent him and recognized the ring of truth. He wrote to the Albania office, and for a while he continued to learn the truth by means of correspondence with the brothers. To provide further spiritual assistance, two brothers made a special trip to meet him. During the course of the conversation with Arben, it became evident that he qualified to be a publisher. The two brothers then took him to the center of Korçë and let him watch as they preached to passersby.
Arben relates: “Then they gave me magazines and said, ‘Now it’s your turn.’ They told me to go alone, and I did.”
It was a few months before special pioneers came to help him. In the meantime, though, people responded to his preaching. Not long after the special pioneers arrived, a group was formed.
Toward the end of the year, the pioneers in Vlorë called the office, saying that Areti Pina was ill and wanted to meet with one of the responsible brothers. When the brother arrived, Areti dismissed everyone else from the room so that she could talk to him privately.
“I do not have long to live,” she said, gasping for air. “I have been thinking, and I need to ask you something. I cannot absorb all the details, but I need to know, Has the book of Revelation been fulfilled?”
“Yes, Areti, most of it has,” responded the brother, who then outlined a few things that are still awaiting fulfillment. Areti paid rapt attention to every word.
“Now I can die in peace,” she said. “I needed to know how close we are.”
For many years Areti had been an enthusiastic publisher—whether preaching alone in the mountains or from her bed when she was sick. Shortly after that conversation, Areti faithfully finished her earthly course.
HIS FAITH WAS STRONG TO THE END
Nasho Dori, in his 80’s, was ill, and his strength was failing. But one group of brothers in particular needed his encouragement—the young brothers who were being called up for military service. The Orthodox clergy in Berat, who envied the rapid growth among Jehovah’s Witnesses, pressured the authorities to prosecute these young men.
Six young brothers there who refused to join the military faced the prospect of several months in prison. Recognizing their need for encouragement, Nasho sat up in bed and videotaped a message for them.
“Do not be afraid,” Nasho urged the young brothers. “We have been through this before. Jehovah will be with you. If you go to prison, do not worry. It will turn out for the good of Jehovah’s name.”
As Nasho’s health continued to fail, he called brothers to his bedside and said: “I had to pray for forgiveness. Last week I was in so much pain that I prayed to die. Then I thought, ‘Jehovah, you are the Author of life. Everything you stand for is life. I was asking for something that goes against your will. Please forgive me!’”
When Nasho learned that the number of publishers in Albania had grown to 942, he said: “We have finally got a great crowd in Albania!” A few days later, he died, finishing his earthly course.
THE TRAZIRA—A TIME OF ANARCHY
By 1997 there was much exploitation, bribery, and corruption. Many Albanians sold everything they had and invested all their money in get-rich-quick pyramid schemes. When their investments failed, embittered citizens took their protests to the streets.
At that very time, while the special assembly day program was in progress, a sister who worked for a high-ranking official told the brothers that the prime minister was about to resign. She learned that there was going to be an outbreak of unprecedented violence. The special assembly day program was cut short so that the brothers could get home quickly. Two hours after the program ended, the country was in a state of emergency and a curfew was enforced.
No one knew exactly what was happening. Rumors were rampant. Was it foreign intervention or local politics? The pyramid schemes had collapsed, and most people had lost everything they had invested. Rioting erupted in Vlorë. People broke into national armories and plundered all the weapons and ammunition. As newscasts reported what was happening, people in city after city resorted to violence. The country was in an uproar, and the police lost control. Albania disintegrated into armed revolt and anarchy.
Most of the 125 foreign full-time servants in Albania went to Tiranë for safety. Many Albanians blamed foreigners for what was happening, so it was prudent for the foreign pioneers to leave the country. Because the airport was closed, some of the pioneers from Italy were taken to Durrës, where the port was in the hands of local armed men. After a tense wait of 12 hours, the pioneers boarded a boat for their home country.
The Country Committee was in daily telephone contact with brothers in various parts of the country. During the early part of the day, there was an eerie calm on the streets. But by the afternoon, people began firing their weapons and continued doing so right through the night until dawn. Some even had antiaircraft artillery. The struggle became known as the trazira, or turmoil.
“FOR THE GOOD OF JEHOVAH’S NAME”
Arben Merko, one of the six brothers from Berat who was imprisoned for neutrality, relates: “In my cell there was a small hole in the wall. A man in the next cell asked who I was.” Arben witnessed to him for weeks. One day the voice was no more.
After Arben was released from prison, a young man came to his door. Arben did not recognize the man’s face, but his voice was familiar—it was the man who had been in the prison cell next to his.
“I came to give you this,” he said to Arben, handing him an amplifier.
“During the trazira,” he told Arben, “I stole this amplifier from your Kingdom Hall. But what you told me in prison touched my heart. I want to have a clear conscience before God, so I have brought it back to you.”
Arben could not help but recall Nasho Dori’s final message to the group of young integrity-keepers: “It will turn out for the good of Jehovah’s name.”
TAKING CARE OF JEHOVAH’S SHEEP
The departure of the foreign elders left most congregations and large groups in the care of 19- and 20-year-old ministerial servants. One day, at great risk to themselves, three of these young brothers traveled from Vlorë to Tiranë. Concerned about the food shortage, the Country Committee asked if the brothers needed any material provisions in particular.
“We’ve just run out of field service report slips,” the young men answered. Like elderly faithful ones from years ago, they were more concerned about spiritual needs than physical needs. They then related that many people were responding positively to the good news because of all the fear and uncertainty.
Soon after the Memorial, the office received a phone call. “We are a group of your sisters in Kukës,” said one of them, “and we have been holding meetings alone since the pioneers left.”
As a result of the turmoil, the brothers in Tiranë had lost communication with the publishers in Kukës. Nevertheless, a group of seven unbaptized publishers had held the Memorial in two places. Although they were concerned that they may not have conducted the Memorial perfectly, they were happy to report that 19 had attended at the two venues. Amazingly, despite the curfew and difficult conditions in 1997, there were 3,154 present at the Memorial throughout Albania. And despite the anarchy, the publishers kept preaching, giving comfort while also being careful.
When the Country Committee found out that the brothers in Gjirokastër needed food and literature, they discussed whether it would be safe to send a truckload of provisions there. However, their discussion was interrupted by a sister who said that a news broadcaster who might have some helpful information had come to see the brothers.
Without knowing what the committee was discussing, the news broadcaster advised: “Whatever you do, do not go down south tomorrow. We have received reports that something dangerous is being planned in Tepelenë.” Because the truck to Gjirokastër would have to go through Tepelenë, the brothers decided to cancel the trip.
The next day, shortly after 11 o’clock, a special news bulletin reported that an extremely violent and bloody clash had taken place in Tepelenë and that the bridge in the city had been blown up. How grateful the brothers were to Jehovah that they had been prevented from going there that day!
For weeks the Bethel family heard gunshots throughout the night, and they often conducted morning worship with the sound of machine-gun fire and bombs in the background. Guns were being fired into the air at random, and there was always the risk of stray bullets. For safety’s sake, the Bethel family stayed indoors, and the translators sat on the floor away from the windows while they continued with their work.
In April 1997, a force of 7,000 United Nations troops arrived to restore order to the country. By August the UN forces had left Albania, and it was possible for the brothers to arrange a district convention. The publishers were delighted; for months they had been able to meet only in small groups.
Armed robbers held up some of the buses chartered by the brothers to bring them to the convention. However, when they found out that the passengers were Jehovah’s Witnesses, they said: “You people are different! We cannot harm you.”
What effect did the trazira have on the preaching work in Albania? Rather than hinder the growth, the danger and anxiety seemed to make many people more conscious of their spiritual need. As a result, in just 15 months, 500 new publishers started in field service, bringing the total of publishers to over 1,500.
KOSOVO IN THE SPOTLIGHT
After the trazira, the guns seemed to disappear, and the congregations kept growing. However, problems were erupting in neighboring Kosovo. The war there was felt in Albania, as waves of refugees streamed over the border. The Albanian publishers lost no time in providing the refugees with a message of hope and with comforting literature. They also cared well for a group of 22 made up of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their little children.
In August, when the war ended, the Kosovar brothers returned to their homes, but not alone. They were accompanied by Albanian and Italian brothers, including ten special pioneers, who wanted to provide needed spiritual help. By the end of the 1999 service year, there were 1,805 publishers in Albania and 40 in Kosovo.
INCREASED SPIRITUAL STABILITY
“I’m glad we are translating so much,” Nasho Dori had said before he died, “but what we really need is the New World Translation—a good-quality Bible on which to build our faith!” Just three years after Nasho’s death, in 1999, the Governing Body gave approval for the translation of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Albanian.
At the convention in 2000, a wonderful surprise awaited the Albanian audience—the release of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in Albanian! The hardworking translation team poured their heart and soul into the project and completed it in just under a year. A regular pioneer who was formerly a Communist member of the parliament wrote: “How wonderful! Only after studying this translation have I been able to appreciate how beautiful the Bible is, with its prose, poetry, and flowing accounts. When I read how Jesus performed miracles and was rebuked and mocked, I felt deep emotions that I had never felt before. I could imagine each touching scene so clearly!”
By now, there were 2,200 publishers in Albania and the Bethel family had grown to 40. Apartments had been rented, but more room was needed. Consequently, the Governing Body approved the purchase of a seven-acre [3 ha] piece of land on the outskirts of Tiranë in Mëzez. To help oversee the growing field in Albania and in Kosovo, the Country Committee began functioning as a Branch Committee in 2000.
In September 2003, when construction began on the new branch facilities, Albania reported 3,122 publishers. At the same time, translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Albanian was well under way. Not only was the preaching work advancing rapidly but the publishers were making commendable spiritual progress. Many of the 20 young men who made up Albania’s first class of the Ministerial Training School in August 2004 had been teenagers when they cared for congregations during the trazira a few years before. How happy they were now to have received further theocratic training!
‘THE DEVIL WAS ANGRY’
“Jehovah Teaches People to Kill Themselves!” read the newspaper headlines in February 2005. News reports on television and in newspapers carried false rumors that a teenage girl who had committed suicide was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, the girl had neither studied nor attended meetings. Nevertheless, opposers used the incident to launch an all-out attack.
Teachers ridiculed Witness children. Brothers lost their jobs. People clamored for our work to be banned. Though brothers tried to reason with the media, the news reports only got worse.
It was clear that Jehovah’s servants needed guidance and support to cope with this new attack. So the branch arranged for a special talk to be presented to show the value of continuing to preach the truth in order to counter the venomous lies. The brothers were encouraged to reason with people and not give in to fear of man. They could point out to honesthearted ones that the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses had increased phenomenally over the past few years, which would not have been the case if Witnesses had been killing themselves. This type of attack was nothing new. The brothers were reminded of the false suicide reports about Spiro Vruho back in the 1960’s. The present reports would fail miserably, and fail they did!
Just a few months later, in August, David Splane of the Governing Body joined the 4,675 delegates from Albania and Kosovo at their district convention. The audience could barely contain their delight when Brother Splane released the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Albanian!
“No wonder Satan was trying hard to hinder us!” said one old-timer. “He was angry because so many good things were happening to Jehovah’s people.”
Despite negative reports in the media, God’s servants in Albania continued to grow stronger. Many unbelieving husbands and relatives who saw through the untrue news reports began to study the Bible and became publishers. In the face of Satan’s most vicious onslaughts, Jehovah’s will was being accomplished. The Bethel family moved into the new branch, and the second class of the Ministerial Training School got under way.
In June 2006, Theodore Jaracz and Gerrit Lösch, both of the Governing Body, were among the 350 delegates from 32 countries present for the dedication of the new branch facilities. Also at the dedication was Sotir Ceqi, who had been tortured with electric shocks in the 1940’s. Now in his late 70’s, he continues to serve with joy.
“I only dreamed of this day,” said Frosina Xheka, still serving loyally despite decades of intense hardship. Polikseni Komino, Jani’s widow, was there to tell about her daughters and granddaughter, who were serving as regular pioneers. Also in attendance was Vasil Gjoka, now hunched over after years of suffering. His eyes filled with tears as he reminisced about visiting Leonidha Pope and being baptized secretly in 1960.
The former branch in Tiranë was turned into a Kingdom Hall complex and missionary home for 14 missionaries. Six classes of the Ministerial Training School have produced a crop of faithful, self-sacrificing special pioneers who are an enormous asset to the Albanian field. More than 950 local regular and special pioneers reflect a similar glowing evangelizing spirit.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Our brothers and sisters in Albania deeply appreciate the Bible and the literature that has been translated into their mother tongue. Jehovah’s work in this part of the field continues to progress steadily. In addition to the eager and capable men who are being trained to take on theocratic responsibility, “the women telling the good news are a large army.”—Ps. 68:11.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Albania are living testimony to the truthfulness of the inspired words: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success, and any tongue at all that will rise up against you in the judgment you will condemn. This is the hereditary possession of the servants of Jehovah.” (Isa. 54:17) Because of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness and strength, they remained unbroken by totalitarian rule, torture, isolation, malicious media publicity, and personal problems.
Jehovah’s people in Albania face the future absolutely certain of God’s loyal love and blessing. Regardless of difficulties, they rejoice in the privilege of making their heavenly Father’s heart glad and in the hope that is set before them. (Prov. 27:11; Heb. 12:1, 2) If one thing has echoed through Albania’s theocratic history, it is this: Jehovah never forgets the sacrifices, great and small, made by his loyal servants, young and old.—Heb. 6:10; 13:16.
[Blurb on page 130]
The title was first translated The Guitar of God
[Blurb on page 140]
“If you were a Christian, you would fight just like the priests do!”
[Blurb on page 189]
“We’ve just run out of field service report slips”
[Box/Picture on page 132]
Albania is located in southeastern Europe, north of Greece and east of the heel of Italy’s boot. It covers 11,100 square miles [28,750 square km], and its 225-mile [362-km] coastline stretches along the Adriatic and Ionian seas. White sandy beaches and turquoise waters with a backdrop of tall mountains adorn Albania’s riviera, which extends from Vlorë to Sarandë. The north and the interior of the country are filled with jagged mountain ranges, whereas the southwest has fertile lowlands used for farming.
The population is estimated at 3,600,000 and is mostly made up of ethnic Albanians, with a small percentage of Roma, Greek, and Serbian ethnic groups.
Along southern coastal flat areas, summers average 80 degrees Fahrenheit [26°C]. Yet, in the northern mountains of Dibër in the winter, temperatures drop to as low as minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit [-25°C].
A pie with a flaky crust filled with spinach, cheese, tomatoes, and onions or with a variety of other vegetable or meat fillings is called byrek. Chicken or lamb baked in a savory yogurt-and-dill sauce is tava e kosit. Albanians love eating with a spoon, as soups and stews are common. Often on special occasions when lamb is on the menu, the honored guest will be served the head. Among Albania’s many desserts are baklava (pictured right) and kadaif, which are baked pastry dough covered with syrup or honey and nuts. For an Albanian, bread is a staple. If you want to tell someone that you have eaten, you simply say, “Hëngra bukë,” meaning “I ate bread.”
[Box/Pictures on page 134]
Aside from the Albanian Public Meetings on Sunday, the Albanians in New England, U.S.A., generally associated with English or Greek congregations. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Albanians enjoyed attending conventions held in the Greek language. Still, they were happy to have their own language badge, which read: “Albanian Bible Students’ Three-Day Convention.”
Badge (at right) worn by Albanian brothers (below) at a Boston convention in the late 1920’s
[Box/Pictures on page 151, 152]
“Jehovah Never Left Us!”
PROFILE She learned the truth as a teenager. Although her parents opposed her, and the authorities isolated her, she always felt close to Jehovah and his organization. She died faithful in 2007.
◼ FROSINA learned the truth from her brothers in the 1940’s. Her non-Witness parents threw her out of their home because she refused to enter an arranged marriage. A brother, Gole Flloko, took her into his family and treated her like a daughter.
“Once I was arrested because I refused to vote,” Frosina said. “I was alone in a room when about 30 officers surrounded me. One screamed, ‘Do you have any idea what we can do to you?’ I felt that Jehovah was with me and said, ‘You can do nothing that the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will not permit you to do!’ They thought I was crazy, so they said, ‘Get her out of here!’ You see, I was right. Jehovah was with me!”
In 1957, Frosina married Luçi Xheka, and in time they had three children. In the early 1960’s, Luçi was made a member of the newly formed Country Committee, which was to oversee the work in Albania. Soon he was sentenced to five years of internim (internment) in Gramsh, far from Frosina and the children. There Luçi continued to preach and talk about the organization. People in Gramsh remember him to this day.
With Luçi in internim, the Communist Party blacklisted Frosina, so she could not officially buy food. Frosina says: “It didn’t matter. The few brothers shared what they had. We got by because Jehovah never left us!”
After Luçi’s death, meetings with the brothers were rarer. Yet, Frosina still preached. She recalls: “John Marks visited us in the 1960’s. When I finally met his wife, Helen, in 1986, it felt as though we had known each other for years! Luçi and I had secretly sent messages to the Marks, and they had passed them on to the brothers in Brooklyn.”
When the ban was lifted in 1992, Frosina was one of the nine baptized Witnesses left in Albania. She was regular at meetings and was out in the service the very day of her death in 2007. Shortly before she died, Frosina said: “I love Jehovah with all my heart! Compromise was never an option. I knew I had a large family around the world, but now I’m overwhelmed to see how big our theocratic family is in Albania. Jehovah was always with us, and he is still holding us in his loving hands!”
Frosina Xheka in 2007
[Box/Pictures on page 159, 160]
From Little Literature to an Abundance
PROFILE He took a firm stand for the truth amid totalitarian rule. Today he serves as an elder in Tiranë.
◼ I REMEMBER seeing the Greek Watchtower in my village of Barmash in the 1930’s. My father pointed at the magazine and said, “Those people have it right!” I did not know what his words meant until years later. I loved reading the Bible, though it became dangerous to have one. At an in-law’s funeral, I met a brother from Tiranë. I asked about the sign of the “last days” in Matthew chapter 24. He explained it, and right away I told everyone I could what I was learning.
In 1959, I attended a private meeting with the brothers at Leonidha Pope’s home. I had been reading the book of Revelation and asked about the identity of the wild beast and Babylon the Great. When the brothers explained them to me, I knew this was the truth! I got baptized a year later.
I was zealous in preaching, and because of that, I was fired from my job. So I got a rickety old wooden cart and delivered goods in Tiranë. Though I had limited contact with the brothers and no literature, I kept preaching.
In the early 1960’s, before Leonidha Pope was sent into internim, he managed to get a couple of Greek publications that were smuggled into Albania. He translated out loud, and I wrote down what he said in a notebook. Then, at his direction, I made copies and sent them to a few brothers in Berat, Fier, and Vlorë.
What changes have come about since the 1990’s! I am thrilled to see the abundance of literature that Jehovah has given us. From 1992 until today, we have placed over 17 million magazines in Albanian! The new publications are translated into Albanian, and we have the entire New World Translation in our language! When I think of the years without literature, I cannot hold back my tears of joy. Having so little for so long has made us very appreciative!
[Box/Pictures on page 163, 164]
I Found Real Work Back Home
PROFILE He learned the truth in Italy and thereafter returned to Albania. He is a member of the Albania Branch Committee.
◼ I WAS 21 years old in 1991 when I left Albania with thousands of refugees. We had hijacked a ship headed for Italy. Albania was destitute, so I was thrilled that I could escape. I thought this was a dream come true.
After two days in Brindisi, Italy, I sneaked out of the refugee camp to look for work. A man gave me a small photocopied Bible message in Albanian and invited me to a meeting that afternoon. I quickly thought: ‘Hey, why not? Maybe someone will give me a job!’
I never expected the friendly reception I received. After the meeting at the Kingdom Hall, everyone came up to me, and they were warm and loving. A family invited me to dinner. What kindness and dignity they showed me—a scruffy, illegal Albanian refugee!
At the next meeting, Vito Mastrorosa offered me a Bible study. I accepted and soon recognized that this was the truth. In August 1992, I got baptized in Italy.
My residency documents were finally in order. I had secured a good job and was sending money to my family in Albania. However, I started thinking: ‘Now that the work is open in Albania, there is a great need. Should I go back and serve there? But how will my family react? They need the money I send them. What will people say?’
Then I got a phone call from the office in Tiranë, asking if I would be willing to go there and teach Albanian to a group of Italian special pioneers who were moving to Albania that November. Their example made me think seriously. They were heading off to the territory I had left. They didn’t know the language and were thrilled to go. My language and culture were Albanian. What was I doing in Italy?
I made my decision and got on the boat with those special pioneers. Right away, I began serving at the small Bethel. I taught Albanian in the morning and worked with translation in the afternoon. At first, my family was not happy. But when they understood why I had moved back to Albania, they began to listen to the good news. Soon my parents, two sisters, and a brother got baptized.
Do I regret having given up work and money in Italy? Not for a minute! I found real work in Albania. As far as I’m concerned, the work that really matters and brings lasting joy is serving Jehovah with everything you have!
Ardian with his wife, Noadia
[Box/Pictures on page 173, 174]
An End to Secret Meetings
PROFILE She was invited to a secret meeting, and then things changed dramatically. Currently she is serving as a special pioneer.
◼ WHEN my cousin died in 1991, I overheard a woman named Barie encourage my aunt with Bible thoughts. Right away I asked questions and was invited to meet her friend Rajmonda at her place of work. Rajmonda’s family was meeting at the “class.” Rajmonda told me that I would have to have Bible discussions for a while, because new ones were not let into the class right away. I loved what I was learning, and soon I was allowed to attend.
That class was made up of unbaptized people who had originally begun meeting with Sotir Papa and Sulo Hasani. Years earlier, the Sigurimi had infiltrated classes and had turned the brothers in to the police. So all were cautious, and they were careful about who was invited to meetings!
At my first meeting, I learned that we were supposed to make a list of our friends and tell them what we were learning. Right away I talked to Ilma Tani. Soon she was allowed to come to the class. Our little class of 15 grew quickly.
In April 1992, Michael and Linda DiGregorio visited Berat. It was recommended that we openly invite people to his talk. As a result, 54 persons came. None of us were baptized. After that meeting, we bombarded the DiGregorios with questions for hours. We finally learned how our group was supposed to function.
Soon Jehovah’s Witnesses were legally recognized. Ilma and I, along with two brothers, went to Tiranë to learn how to go from door to door. We were asked to show others in Berat what we had learned. We tried our best. When four Italian special pioneers were assigned to Berat in March 1993, the congregation really got going, with two open meetings a week.
That March, Ilma and I got baptized at the first special assembly day in Tiranë. There were 585 people present. We became regular pioneers and were soon invited to become the first local special pioneers. Nothing was secret anymore. We were assigned to Korçë.
Ilma later married Arben Lubonja, who had been preaching alone in Korçë just a few months earlier. Eventually, they went into the circuit work, and they now serve at Bethel. I’m happy that I invited Ilma to that class!
Recently, when I was sitting at a district convention with over 5,500 present, I thought of our secret class. What changes Jehovah has made! Meetings and assemblies are wide open now. Though hundreds of brothers have left Berat on account of the economy, our little class has now turned into five bustling congregations!
Ilma (Tani) and Arben Lubonja
[Box/Picture on page 183]
“OK, Let’s Go!”
ALTIN HOXHA AND ADRIAN SHKËMBI
BORN Both in 1973
BAPTIZED Both in 1993
PROFILE They left university to pioneer, and they now serve as congregation elders.
◼ EARLY in 1993, they were university students in Tiranë. A friend talked to them for hours about what he was learning from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Everything was supported by the Bible. Later they learned more, applied what they learned, and were baptized the same year. That summer, they went to preach in Kuçovë, where there were no publishers.
After returning to Tiranë, Adrian said to Altin: “What are we doing in school? Let’s really get the work going in Kuçovë!”
Altin’s response was, “OK, let’s go!” Seven months after their baptism, they were back in Kuçovë.
Jehovah richly blessed their efforts. Today over 90 publishers are active in Kuçovë. Some 25 Witnesses have left there to serve as pioneers or to serve at Bethel. Adrian and Altin conducted studies with many of them.
Thinking about the university, Altin smiles and says: “The apostle Paul decided not to pursue a worldly career, and in 1993, I made a similar decision. Never have I regretted saying, ‘OK, let’s go!’”
[Box/Pictures on page 191, 192]
A Teacher of Atheism Now Teaches the Truth
PROFILE He taught atheism to subordinates in the military before learning the truth from his children. Today he serves as an elder and special pioneer.
◼ IN 1971, after graduating from the military academy, I became a political brigade commissioner. That term was used because the government had abolished military ranks in 1966. Among my responsibilities was indoctrination of those in my command with the ideology that God does not exist. I expounded on the philosophy that religion is the opium of the people.
I had a wife and three children. In 1992 my son, Artan, started attending religious meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tiranë. Then he took his sister Anila along. I considered that to be a waste of their time and very stupid. Consequently, many arguments broke out at home.
One day, out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of The Watchtower. Oddly enough, it sounded reasonable. Yet, even though Artan and Anila kept encouraging me, I would not study the Bible. I reasoned that you can’t study the Bible if you don’t believe in God. In 1995 the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? came out in Albanian. Artan and Anila gave me a copy. That’s all it took to convince me. God does exist! I no longer had an excuse; I had to study. Soon my wife, Lirie, joined me, and we were convinced of the truth.
To be honest, my progress took time. I was 53 years old. It was not easy to let go of my political and military way of thinking. I have to say it was the Creator, Jehovah, who helped me move forward.
I did not want to become a publisher because I worried about preaching to the very people I had taught atheism. What would they think? One day at our study, Vito Mastrorosa read me the account of Saul of Tarsus. That did it! Saul persecuted Christians, learned the truth, and then preached. With Jehovah’s help, I knew I could do the same.
I still laugh at myself sometimes as Jehovah continues to help me become less strict, more reasonable, and less of a commanding officer. I’m slowly getting there.
I don’t argue with my children about the truth anymore. On the contrary, I am proud of them. Artan serves as a special pioneer and elder. My daughters, Anila and Eliona, both serve at Bethel in Tiranë.
Lirie and I serve as special pioneers. We feel privileged to teach people the truth about our Grand Creator and watch the changes in their lives. What a joy it is to offer real hope based on the promises of the only living and true God, Jehovah!
Left to right: Artan, Anila, Lirie, Anastas, Eliona, and her husband, Rinaldo Galli
[Chart/Graph on page 176, 177]
1920-1922 Albanians learn the truth in the United States.
1922 Thanas Idrizi returns to Gjirokastër with the truth.
1925 Three small Bible study classes are functioning in Albania.
1928 The “Photo-Drama of Creation” is shown in many cities.
1935-1936 An extensive preaching campaign is carried out.
1939 Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned.
1940 Nine brothers are imprisoned for neutrality.
1946 Communist government begins.
1960 A Country Committee begins to oversee the work in Albania.
1962 Members of the committee are sent to labor camps.
1967 Albania officially becomes atheistic.
1992 Jehovah’s Witnesses are legally recognized.
1996 Milton Henschel attends the first Bethel dedication.
1997 The trazira begins.
2005 The complete New World Translation is released in Albanian.
2006 The branch office is dedicated in Mëzez, Tiranë.
1930 1940 1950 1960 1980 1990 2000 2010
[Maps on page 133]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
[Full-page picture on page 126]
[Picture on page 128]
After learning the truth in New England, U.S.A., Thanas Idrizi took the good news to Gjirokastër, Albania
[Picture on page 129]
Sokrat Duli taught his brother the truth
[Picture on page 137]
Nicholas Christo shared the good news with Albanian dignitaries
[Picture on page 142]
The two-page letter that Albanian brothers in Boston sent to Enver Hoxha
[Picture on page 145]
[Picture on page 147]
“Jehovah taught me not to sign what I did not say.”—Sotir Ceqi
[Picture on page 149]
Helen and John Marks before he returned to Albania
[Picture on page 154]
Spiro Vruho served as a traveling overseer
[Picture on page 157]
[Picture on page 158]
Although alone, Kulla Gjidhari still observed the Memorial
[Picture on page 167]
Michael and Linda DiGregorio
[Picture on page 172]
Order No. 100 granted legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses
[Picture on page 175]
Congregation meeting in the first Kingdom Hall, 1992, Tiranë
[Picture on page 178]
Areti Pina preached faithfully on her own
[Pictures on page 184]
An old villa was converted into modern offices
[Picture on page 186]
“If you go to prison, do not worry.”—Nasho Dori
[Pictures on page 194]
David Splane releasing the complete “New World Translation” in Albanian
[Picture on page 197]
Missionaries currently serving in Albania
[Pictures on page 199]
Branch Committee: Artan Duka, Ardian Tutra, Michael DiGregorio, Davide Appignanesi, Stefano Anatrelli