Albania: The cost.
The cost of bringing the Gospel to the Albanian people has always been high. This book looks at some of the people who have made the attempt, both Albanian and foreign, and the price they have had to pay.
The title (and the cover drawing) are based on the Lords parable of the man who began to build a tower without first sitting down to count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it. He laid the foundation, but was not able to finish, and his work was left incomplete and his good name demeaned.
This book is offered in the hope that its readers will be stirred to follow the example of those who did pay the full price required of them. When God calls us, we must count the cost and be willing to see the work through to the end: it may require our all, but we cannot honourably offer less for Him who gave all for us, and calls us to follow His example and the example of some who have gone before, in obedience to His calling and command.
Bible Society Workers
In the second decade of the 19th century, after long years of darkness and neglect, God began to turn the minds of His people once more towards the needs of Albania. lf you have read our previous book Battle for Albania (or its Albanian version, Ungjilli ndėr Shqiptarėt) you will be familiar with parts of this story.
In 1817, the British and Foreign Bible Society printed a letter written on 28th August, 1816, from the Rev. R. Pinkerton, in which he wrote:
"The furnishing of the Albanians with a New Testament at least, in their own language, is an object highly worthy of the attention of the British and Foreign Bible Society. They still have no part of the word of God in their own tongue. Or, should a Bible Society be established in one of the Ionian Islands, the giving to the Albanians a New Testament in their own tongue, would certainly become an object worthy of its earliest and most zealous efforts."
On 25th October 1819 he wrote to the Society again:
"a translation of the New Testament into the Albanian language has entwined itself about my heart for these several years past, in such a way that I literally could not get rid of it ... "
In 1822 the New Testament was being revised, but in 1824 it was reported that "Death has removed the original translator and the two priests who had been selected for the purpose of revising the version Others properly qualified for the task were found and by 1825 the revision was complete, and Matthew's Gospel was printed and put into circulation. Rev. Isaac Lowndes, Secretary of the lonian Bible Society, reported that "a priest of this nation had called upon him to request a copy, saying, that he had received accounts from his country that many there were anxious to have the work."
Printing of the New Testament began in January, 1825, at Corfu. In 1826 it was reported that the Gospel of Matthew had been "distributed and received with the greatest joy", and in 1828 that the complete New Testament, in parallel columns in Albanian and Modern Greek, had been finished under the supervision of the Rev. Isaac Lowndes, at Corfu. From 1830 we read of distribution of the New Testament inside Albania.
In 1860, a highly providential event took place in the development of the work, when the British and Foreign Bible Society appointed a new agent at Constantinople to direct its operations in Turkey. The man chosen was the Rev. Alexander Thomson (1820-1899).
According to the Free Church of Scotland list of Ordained Ministers and Missionaries, Alexander Thomson was born at Edinburgh in 1820. Nothing is known of his childhood and youth, save that his father died when he was 6 years old.
He studied at the University of St Andrews and at New College, Edinburgh, and in 1845 was ordained as a missionary to the Jews. For two years he was stationed at Budapest, and then at Constantinople. He served as a missionary to the Jews for about sixteen years.
Then, a proposed change on the part of the Free Church with regard to the Jewish Mission at Constantinople led to his transfer to the Bible Society, to direct their operations in Turkey, which at that time inc1uded the province of Albania.
In 1863 he made a tour of Bosnia and Albania to ascertain for himself its spiritual condition and to judge the probable results of further efforts for the circulation of the scriptures in Albania. He reported that "111 all these extensive districts ... there is no missionary whatever ... " The tour led the Society to the conviction that Thomson had been the means, under God, of opening a wide and effectual door for the entrance of the tru th into a land shrouded in spiritual darkness.
There are instances of suffering and sacrifice which people made in the course of the work he led, not least among them:
Colporteur Fischer in Berat was heavily afflicted in the 1870s when his wife and daughter were stricken with fever-his daughter twice, so as to be brought almost to the grave-and was eventually compelled to leave the town.
Agent's Book 1873: "Poor Klundt has been sorely tried, since he went to Uscup [Skopje], the station for West Old Servia [Kosova] and North Macedonia. He first lost his eldest boy, then almost the whole family fell sick, himself severely affected with fever and the others with small pox of a bad type, of which a second child died.
They are better now, but he himself is still feeble. He IS a truly Christian and zealous man."
In 1883, reports came from all parts of Alexander Thomson's agency (which included Albania) of maltreatment, persecution and even imprisonment endured by the Society's colporteurs. Colporteur Sevastides was arrested and expelled from Shkodėr and made to walk on foot over flooded country behind a mounted policeman, lodging at various prisons on the way, till after thirteen days he returned home to Berat, where he was released. He was utterly exhausted, and confined to bed for some weeks. In August 1884, he was obliged to leave Albania owing to the dangerous illness of his wife.
Gjerasim Qiriazi, who planted the first Evangelical church in Albania,. was captured by outlaws and held as their prisoner. The Society reported that "much prayer was offered, and many exertions were made for his release. After five months of cruel treatment, his ransom was effected, and his return home, on April 30th, changed a meeting called for prayer on his behalf into one of praise." He died in 1894 aged 35, perhaps poisoned for his Gospel work (though this has not been established), perhaps owing to a ruined constitution from his months of captivity at the hands of the outlaws on a journey to Korēė ten years earlier, the story of which is told in his book Captured by Brigands.
Colporteur Michael, who had already been imprisoned several times, was struck a severe blow in Doliana, north of Janinė, which knocked him bleeding and unconscious to the ground, while his books were seized; this was the result of an episcopal circular against Protestants.
Elias Zarifzappas served as a Bible Society colporteur in Albania from 1910; in 1916 he was imprisoned and later condemned to forced labour; he resumed his work as a colporteur, and in 1920 he was discovered penniless and weak from lack of food; in 1926, when he was due for retirement, he disappeared in the interior of Albania and was never heard of again.
Alexander Thomson wrote in 1889 of the Society's "desire to penetrate into the uplands of Albania and Macedonia, the haunts of savage, bloodthirsty brigands who keep the land in terror."
Maybe one day the fuller story of the heroism, devotion and sufferings of the men and women who met these dangers and endured these sufferings will be told, but we shall concentrate on just three of the Bible Society's men who paid a high price to bring the knowledge of Christ to that land and people . ..................
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