"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
It is an amazing story. Before the fall of the iron curtain, only twenty years ago, there were no known Christians of any kind--Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox--in the little Soviet bloc country of Albania. Albania was the only country in the world where it was actually illegal to believe in God (though how could anyone enforce it unless it led to some outward demonstration?). Thanks to creative and assertive evangelism from the West very soon after Albania opened up, new converts quickly sprang up. Especially where the church or parachurch ministries have been indigenized, remarkable growth has occurred. Nowhere is this more evident than with Campus Crusade for Christ in Albania, which now has one hundred staff workers, almost all of them Albanians, under the skilled leadership of national director Ylli Doci, a Denver Seminary graduate from 2002.
Ylli estimates there are now about 40,000 evangelical Christians in a country of roughly 4,000,000, approximately one percent of the population. The Campus Crusade staff, with the help of many foreign short-term volunteers, have taken the Jesus film and shown it in every one of the several hundred villages of the country. By far and away the people most touched have been the young adults. Ylli says he knows of maybe five or six believers in the entire country over the age of 40 (he is 39). This of course has its drawbacks, when it comes to trying to influence politicians or businesspeople or university professors. But lack of energy, enthusiasm, vision and action are not among those drawbacks.
I had the privilege to teach the Book of Revelation over about a 25-hour period of time spread out over five days, at Ylli's invitation, to the whole Crusade staff team and spouses and a smattering of other Christian leaders during the second week of January. Seldom have I seen a group as attentive, interested, questioning, and appreciative over a sustained period of time like that. As in the famous play and movie, "The Mouse that Roared," here is a tiny country turning an astonishing about-face, not just religiously, but politically, economically and technologically. This year they hope to be able to join NATO. The Christian community there, however, reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:26-29--"not many were wise by human standards or influential or of noble birth, but God chose them to make foolish the things of the world and to shame the strong."
Of course, to those who are perishing, it all still seems foolish, as in 1 Corinthians 1:18. But those who are being saved recognize that it is the power of God. Albanian believers have already begun to send a handful of missionaries to other spiritually needy parts of the world, including Kosovo, where many Albanian Kosovars reside; Turkey, a neighboring, technically secular but historically Muslim country, and elsewhere.
There are some orange flags going up, however. The more prosperous the country becomes, the more interest in the gospel among many starts to wane. Materialism is so stifling of faithful, energetic service for Christ. But that also fits what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. God help us overcome our enslavement to "stuff" and recover an unflagging zeal for God's word and sharing it with others!
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Dr. Craig L. Blomberg serves as Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary.
Dr. Blomberg completed his PhD in New Testament, specializing in the parables and the writings of Luke-Acts, at Aberdeen University in Scotland. He received an MA from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a BA from Augustana College. Before joining the faculty of Denver Seminary, he taught at Palm Beach Atlantic College and was a research fellow in Cambridge, England with Tyndale House.
In addition to writing numerous articles in professional journals, multi-author works and dictionaries or encyclopedias, he has authored or edited 20 books, including The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, Interpreting the Parables, commentaries on Matthew, 1 Corinthians and James, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions; Making Sense of the New Testament: Three Crucial Questions; Preaching the Parables; Contagious Holines: Jesus' Meals with Sinners; and Handbook of New Testament Exegesis.
For more, visit Denver Seminary.