Creation evangelism in Albania
Interview with missionary Shaun Thompson
Ken Ham [KH]: Shaun, please tell us about Albania’s unique history.
Shaun Thompson [ST]: Albania was the last Eastern Bloc country to open up, when the Communists lost power in 1991. It was one of the most closed countries in the world to the Gospel during the last 50 years. In 1940 there was only one evangelical church, of about 100 believers, in the whole country. We lost contact with them until 1991, when we found that there were only three believers who had continued to meet together—in a whole country of 3.3 million.
[KH]: That sounds mind-blowing. I heard that under communism they even put an electric fence around the country?
[ST]: That’s right. It ran from the Yugoslavian border in the north right down to the Greek border. Without government permission, nobody could come in or leave this country unauthorised without getting shot. Albania was also the first country ever to declare itself officially as an atheist nation.
Weren’t there Muslims and Catholics, and so on in the country?
Yes. Albania has always been a battleground for various traditional religions—Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Islam. Most Albanians have a nominal Muslim background as a result of the Turkish conquest in that part of the world 500 years ago. The Communists made any form of religion illegal, but they just replaced it with another religion–humanism. When you look back at school books and press clippings from the Communist years, you see the way that evolution and Marxism were taught as a religion. An unbelievable personality cult surrounded the notorious former dictator, Enver Hoxha, who was worshipped like a god.
How vital was evolution to the Communist philosophy?
Evolution was its essential foundation. At all educational levels, from childhood and in the press, an evolutionary worldview was given as systematic propaganda.
I know that having seen what evolution has done to the country, and with your understanding of the foundational importance of Genesis, you’ve been involved in translating some of the creationist literature for Albania.
Yes, we’ve been really excited. Two years ago, we were able to print and distribute about 5,000 copies of Bone of Contention in Albanian. We’ve had a great response from young people, students, older people—their eyes are opened, and they realize there is no factual basis for the evolutionary propaganda that they’ve been fed during Communism.
Do you find that this removes a stumbling block towards the Gospel?
Definitely. I find it’s a real key that opens up a lot of people to listening to the Gospel. We’re set to publish more as funds permit—one of yours, Ken, The Lie: Evolution is set to go to the printers.
Shaun, I presume there’s been an influx of missionaries now that Albania has opened up.
Yes; in the last six years, the church has grown to around 6,000 today. Around 200 church-planting missionaries, mostly from the U.S. and Europe, have been operating in that time.
Do they all see the foundational importance of the book of Genesis as you do?
Some have been excited to see us publishing creationist literature in Albanian. Others, who claim that Genesis is figurative or symbolic, have reacted against it, saying that it is divisive and unnecessary. This is surprising, given the way evolution has been used in Albania to close people to the truth of the Gospel.
Is it important to give new believers the right foundation from Genesis?
It’s essential. We have a unique opportunity here in Albania with this young church that’s growing … and we want to set them on the right footing. We’ve seen the damage that evolutionary ideas have done in the church in our own countries, and I think it’s our responsibility to give Albanians a firm foundation with their faith. We can see that these books are going to have a great impact on the church, and be a real tool for it in future generations. A few years ago, Albanians had virtually no Christian literature, even the Bible, in their own language.
Are there other mission organizations and missionaries in Albania who share your burden about Christian literature?
I wish that more did. Some with better funding than ourselves seem to commit a lot of their resources to projects which have a short-term nature. A lot goes on buildings, accommodation, and so forth. Also on relief projects, which is good in itself, but sad when it is at the expense of good evangelistic work. We can see from the historical way in which God has worked through Christian literature in our own countries, that this is clearly an essential tool for teaching believers and spreading the Gospel. For example, when anarchy broke out in Albania early this year, most missionaries were forced to evacuate, and many of these young Albanian Christians were left without missionaries or pastors. In a situation like that, you really want to be able to leave them with something, like good Christian literature, to feed their souls.
Shaun, what’s it been like for you, living in Albania these last five years?
When I first went out there, the first time I had ever lived outside my own country, U.K., it was like a jump in the deep end for me. God’s really been working in my own life during this time, and I now speak (and am able to preach) fluently in the Albanian language. It’s just exciting to be there and to see what God’s doing.
What about the recent anarchy in Albania?
If you look at God’s dealings with nations in the Old Testament, I think He still works that way. There are national sins of which Albania is guilty, and I think that there is an element of judgment in all this. However, in the midst of seeming hopelessness, the recent troubles have created a real openness to the Gospel among the Albanian people. They see their country self-destructing, and they’re asking the question, ‘Why?’ We’ve had great opportunities to preach the Gospel and to present to the Albanians the fact that they’ve turned their back on God, and that these are the consequences. And, of course, the Creation message is all part of that.
When presenting the Gospel to Albanian people who have been shut off from hearing the Word of God for many, many years, can you immediately start preaching about sin and Jesus or do you have to start back in the book of Genesis so they’ll understand these things?
We’ve found that you really have to go back to basics to reach these people with the Gospel. Back to the Old Testament—to Genesis, the Fall, and the Law. Unless you’re able to give them that foundation, then people are not able to understand what you’re saying. We’ve had experiences of missionaries speaking to Albanians and talking to them about Christ, and Albanians have answered and said, “Why did Jesus die for me? What does that mean? Why did he need to do that?’ And so you see that gap in understanding—most Albanians hardly know anything about what the Bible teaches, so we feel we need to give them, from the very basic building blocks upwards, the truth of the Christian message. If you tell them Genesis is not to be taken literally, then you are shooting yourself in the foot, and who’s going to believe the Gospel?
The same sort of thing is happening in countries like England, isn’t it, where whole generations are coming through an education system basically devoid of the knowledge of God?
I think Albania is a real warning to the rest of the world that if you fight against the basic fundamental truths of Christianity, you’re going to destroy your society. If you sow atheism, you’ll reap anarchy. And that’s as true for England as it is for America or Albania.
The younger generations in the West increasingly lack understanding of the basics, the foundations of Christian morality. What about in Albania?
It’s fascinating to see the way in which the dogma of Communism, evolution, and Marxism, for 50 years replaced the idea of Creation and of God. It’s incredible that many of the values that they had during the Communist era were Christian values. Albania was traditionally a conservative society with conservative morals and values. The reason for holding these morals and values, which were upheld through fear, was a humanistic dogma. Therefore as soon as Communism collapsed, it left a vacuum in society, and there was no background Creation foundation to replace this Marxist one.
So you’ve seen the values of people change during the last few years?
Incredibly. We know, of course, that their hearts were already like that anyway, but the way that people are behaving–their habits–have changed, especially the young—from one extreme to the other. Why? Because they’ve got no logical foundation for ethics, and certainly not for understanding and receiving the Gospel. That’s why getting these foundational materials to them is so vital.
Shaun, thanks very much.