The Albanians are believed to be descendants of the Illyrians, who were the original inhabitants of the western Balkan Peninsula. In the sixth century, migrating Slavs began to settle on Illyrian territory and pushed the Illyrians into what is present-day Albania.
The Albanians are divided into two major groups, the Gheg and the Tosk, according to which Albanian dialect they speak. The Gheg live north of the Shkumbin River, while the Tosk live south of the river. The two dialects differ slightly in vocabulary and pronunciation. In the 1950s it was decided that the Tosk dialect would be used in all Albanian publications, since it was the one most widely spoken in Albania.
In addition to differences in dialect, the Gheg and the Tosk also have social differences. The Gheg are a very stern and courageous people; while the Tosk are known to be friendly, lively, and talkative.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Prior to the changes introduced by the Communist regime in the 1940s, the Albanians were a tribal people who lived in extended family units called fis. The fis had many old traditions, such as the vendettas, or "blood feuds," which often lasted for several generations. For protection during these feuds, families lived in fortified stone buildings called kulas. The ground floor of the kula was built with small slits rather than windows, while the upper floor had windows that could be closed.
Albania is a country with many isolated areas. Over the centuries, this produced a wide variety of regional lifestyles and settlement patterns. However, when the Communist regime began in 1944, the traditional lifestyles began to change drastically. Communist political authorities believed that the way to achieve national unity was to abolish differences of tribe, religion, and even dress. Huge community farms were established and education became mandatory. Large apartment complexes were built and much of the population became urbanized. Today, more than a third of Albania's population live in cities. The increasing industrial population and the introduction of mandatory education have, in fact, eliminated many regional differences.
The collapse of the Communist regime in 1991 brought on numerous traumatic and rapid changes in Albania, leaving the people with an identity crisis. The people were shocked to discover that they had been reduced to poverty. Hurt, angry, and confused, they are now struggling to find their identity in a country that is considered to be Europe's poorest and least developed.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Centuries ago, many Albanians were converted to Islam by the Ottoman Turks. However, they practiced a type of folk Islam, which embraced occult practices such as praying to the dead, seeking cures for sickness, and praying for protection from spirits and curses.
In 1967, Albania declared itself as the world's first atheistic state, closing its borders to any influence from the outside world. Before this time, religion was mostly based on folk beliefs. Many of the Gheg Albanians professed to be Catholic; however, it was-and still is-nominal, and superficial.
With the fall of the Communist regime in 1990, the crime rate in Albania began to soar. Since that time, religious practices have not only been allowed, but encouraged as an antidote to the crime wave. Muslims from the Middle East are now attempting to re-evangelize Albania by sending missionaries, supplying financial aid, and building mosques. Today, the Muslims, along with the Catholics of northern Albania and the Orthodox of southern Albania, are pressing for restrictive legislation to keep out other religions, such as Protestantism, that are considered non-Albanian.
What Are Their Needs?
Today, Albania's economy is unstable. The people need to know that hope and security can be found in Jesus Christ.
Pray that God will grant His wisdom and favor to missions agencies currently focusing on the Gheg Albanian.
Ask the Lord to raise up additional long-term laborers to go to Albania and share the Good News.
Pray that legislation restricting the preaching of the Gospel will not be passed.
Pray that Bibles will be effectively distributed throughout Albania and have a strong spiritual impact on the people.
Ask God to use the small number of Gheg believers to share Christ's love with their own people.
Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film in Albania.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among Gheg Albanians.
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