What God can do through one Christian’s witness
John F. Vogt
“I would really like to meet some of my Albanian relatives, but I’m too old to travel to Albania. My only hope is to meet you in heaven.”
These words and several gospel tracts sent to Albania from an elderly American started a new life for Agron and Vitori Mece. The Holy Spirit used the letters and tracts of Robert Maurem of Kenosha, Wisconsin—who is now waiting for us in heaven—to lead the Meces to saving faith in Jesus. “We read all the materials with our children who wanted to become Christians too,” says Agron. Since there were no pastors, Vitori baptized Agron, who in turn baptized Vitori and their two children.
“When we came to know about Jesus, our life began to be more meaningful,” says Agron, now a pastor in our sister church in Albania. “We felt that we have something precious in our life and were sorry for those who didn’t have that treasure. Something from inside forced or urged us to share what we had learned with others and talk about Jesus and the message of the gospel.”
Agron tells about the life they had known under the communist government of Albania—the only country in the history of the world to outlaw all religion. “Albania was one of the poorest countries in Europe and totally isolated from the rest of the world. Even worse, religion was prohibited by law. The penal code of 1977 imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for ‘religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature.’ Dictator Hoxha’s brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment. Individuals caught with Bibles, icons, or other religious objects faced long prison sentences. Parents were afraid to pass on their faith for fear that their children would report them.
“Vitori and I were teachers and fed a steady diet of the government’s atheistic propaganda. Even our grandparents were afraid to talk about their religion or to celebrate their rituals before us. We had never seen any religious books. We didn’t know what Christmas was—the Christmas tree was called the New Year tree. The only thing we knew was the fact that before communism people practiced their faith.”
In the spring of 1995, after communism fell, a WELS mission team led by Pastors Kirby Spevacek and Harold Essmann found the Meces. “The first Bible studies were held in our house,” says Agron. “In 1996 we were legally registered as Kisha Ungjilloreb Konfesionale Luteriane ne Shqiperi (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church in Albania). I was one of the founders who signed the document. The first Sunday there were 15 children in Sunday school and 22 attended the worship service.”
During its 19-year history, the Albanian church has weathered some stormy periods. Three times the WELS missionaries were withdrawn, once because of civil unrest, a second time because of terrorism. On March 13, 1997, after Missionaries Richard Russow and Kirby Spevacek and their families were not permitted to board the last ferry to depart the violent uprising, Agron huddled on the beach with them overnight. The adults used their bodies to cover the children who were terrified by the guns shooting over their heads. The next day they were rescued by a warship of the Italian Navy. When all had boarded, Agron stood alone on the dock; he had no intention of leaving his family or his country. “You can’t imagine how we felt when Pastor Spevacek called us from Italy to say they were safe and sound. Tears of happiness rolled down our cheeks as we thanked God they were still alive.” Later Russow returned with his family, only to be forced—on one day’s notice—to evacuate after eight months when a threat against Americans from al Qaeda terrorists closed the U.S. embassy. This time the Russows’ departure was permanent.
When no missionaries were present, Agron served as head of the Albanian church. Finally, after 15 years of interrupted study, he was ordained as a pastor in 2013. He and his fellow pastor, Mikel Bishka, faithfully serve our sister church’s two congregations in Tirana and Durres. One of Agron’s great joys is now helping to train a young man, Nikola Bishka, to begin the next generation of pastors for the church.
When asked: “How have your 20 years of leadership in the church changed you and your family?” Agron replied, “Working in the church and now being a pastor is a very great responsibility for me and for my family as well. I have to give my example in all aspects of life. When I preach how God teaches us, I can’t act differently in my everyday life. I have to show more respect for my wife who is untiring in helping me in my mission work. I thank God for a wife who is so devoted to her work for the Lord and for her family.
“We feel very happy that we have been blessed by God and our efforts didn’t go in vain. We are glad to see the old faces that have come regularly since the opening of our church, and we feel happier to see each new face. We‘ll never forget the day when five old people after getting confirmation classes became the first members of our Lutheran Church. And thanks to God this group of five has kept increasing so that now an average of 111 people worship in our two congregations each week.
“We would like to express our gratitude for everything which the people of WELS have done for the ALC. . . . You have opened our eyes and our minds to something we didn’t know existed, God’s love! You supplied us with gospel-sharing literature which we’ve translated and distributed widely. And God has used your support—financial and spiritual—to lead many Albanians to faith in the one Savior, Jesus Christ.”
John Vogt is WELS regional coordinator for Eastern Europe.
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church in Albania
Year mission work began: 1995
Baptized members: 66
Average weekly attendance at worship: 111
National pastors: 2
National vicars: 2
Resident missionaries: 0
Unique fact: The church’s two pastors studied for the ministry through the St. Sophia Ukrainian Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil, Ukraine. John Vogt, who then served as rector of the seminary, spent three or four weeks each summer teaching the men in Albania and then held weekly online classes.
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Author: John F. Vogt
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015
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