Albania, located in southeastern Europe, is bordered by Greece, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Archaeological discoveries suggest the area has been populated since prehistoric times.
Surrounded by powerful, warring empires, Albania has been occupied at various times by Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, and Italians. During World War II the population was forced to speak and use Italian instead of Albanian. Albania is the only European country occupied by Axis powers that ended the war with a larger Jewish population than it had before the war. Not only did Albanians refuse to turn over lists of Jewish families, they provided refuge to Jews of neighboring countries, and provided them with forged documents so they could be assimilated into the Albanian population.
Christianity has been part of Albanian culture since the first century. After 395 Albania fell under the administrative umbrella of the Eastern Roman Empire; but Albanian Christians remained loyal to Rome. During the Schism of 1054, Christians in southern Albania came under the jurisdiction of the ecumenical patriarch in Constantinople, and those in the north became loyal to the pope in Rome. During the Ottoman invasion of the fourteenth century, the Islamic faith was imposed on Christians and pagans alike.
After independence from the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, political regimes followed a systematic practice of separating state and religion. In the latter half of the twentieth century the government practiced a policy of eliminating organized religion from its territories. Albania officially declared itself to be the world’s first atheist state.
Although religious freedom has since returned to the country, most Albanians do not practice any religion, but align themselves with one of the three traditional religions.
Adventists in Albania
The first Albanians to become Adventists were baptized in an area that is now part of Greece in 1909. In 1932 E. Hennecke, director of the Grecian Mission, moved to Tirana when he was forced to leave Greece. He obtained permission, with two German nurses, to begin a medical work in Albania. The project lasted only a few months when all foreign workers had to leave the country. One woman was baptized as a result of their efforts, however.
In 1938 an Albanian, D. C. Lewis, learned about the Adventist message in the United States. Upon returning to Albania he began to share his faith and four people were baptized.
Muslim, 70%; Albanian Orthodox, 20%; Roman Catholic, 10%
ADVENTIST TO POPULATION RATIO
During World War II, contact with Adventists in Albania was lost. After the war it was learned that Lewis died shortly after the war ended. For more than 40 years the church had no contact with any of its members. But in 1991 the church discovered that two believers had remained faithful during this period of isolation. And in 1992 a team of evangelists under the direction of David Curry, Ministerial Association secretary of the Trans-European Division, held meetings in Tirana and Korce that resulted in the first baptisms in 50 years.
In 1993 the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) leased land from the local council in Tirana for development of a warehouse, community center, health center, and micro industrial units.
Today nearly 300 Adventists worship in three churches in the Albanian Mission Conference.