“From Atheism to Abundant Life” – Besa Shapllo’s Testimony
“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun”- 2 Corinthians 5:17
My name is Besa and I am 69 years old. I was the youngest of the three kids in our family. I was born in Tirana, but spent my childhood in Durres, which is the main sea-port of the country. I grew up in an atheist family, or so I believed, for our parents never denied God in our presence, but never worshipped Him either.
When I was little there were churches (Catholic and Orthodox) all over the country as well as mosques. But in 1966, when I was in the 8th grade, the regime in power, proclaimed Albania an “Atheist Country”, consequently closed down all of the churches and mosques. They went so far as to open an “Atheist Museum” in the town of Shkodra, which is in the northern part of the country.
In the following year, I went to Tirana, the capital of Albania, to attend a special school for foreign languages. Most of the students studied Russian, wheres there was only one class with students who studied French and another one, with those who studied English. I was in the English Class, despite the fact that I had applied for French.
When I was in the third grade, I began to write my name in English. “Besa” is a special word in Albanian. We say ‘Besa of the Albanians’, which means faith and promise and a lot more in one word, but on my notebooks, I chose to use only the word FAITH without my family name.
In 1974 I began to keep a diary and GOD was in it. Whenever I had a problem and needed help, I would write: “God Almighty help me”….!!!”. In my name ‘Besa’, God had sown a seed that was to grow.
For several years, during the summer holidays, I worked as a tourist guide. Once, I was with a group in Shkoder, up in the north, where we took the tourists to visit the city, but especially our ‘Atheist Museum’. It was in this museum that I saw the first Bible in my life. It was a big open Bible. Its inside was cut out and a gun was placed there. With this, they wanted to show that those who claimed to be Christians, were in fact spies of other countries. In the museum there were exhibits of trials of Catholic priests, who had been executed for espionage.
As time moved on, I married and became a teacher for English in a general school. At that time, we had a black & white TV, and we could watch only one station that was the Albanian TV, owned by the state. Once as we were watching a movie in English with subtitles in Albanian, we noticed that the word GOD was not translated. So that became the topic of a ‘secret’ discussion between my husband and myself, as you could never discuss such issues with other persons during those days: “Are they so much afraid Him, that they do not even translate the word GOD?!”
The year 1991 brought about the fall of communism in Albania. We were amazed as angry people gathered in the main city square of Tirana, pulling down a very tall monument of Enver Hoxha, our dictator. At that time, I was just starting, together with my husband, the longest trip in our lives, that to New Zealand. We were invited by a couple, who had been in Albania and I was their guide and translater. Our plan was to visit for just 3 weeks, but the Albanian Community we met there thru our friends, encouraged us to stay and build a life there. My husband agreed right away, whereas I was in a big dilemma as to what may happen to our families because of us staying…. and in particular my mother, who had been suffering from MS since she was 43. (She had been in a concentration Nazi camp together with 7 other Albanian ladies, who were captured during a retreat in WWII.)
So, at this time when people were fleeing from Albania, I decided to move in the opposite direction. And of course, I was fearful as we returned from an island of paradise to a land of chaos.
I wrote in my diary: ”My God, what’s going to become of us?”
I was not yet a Christian when in NZ, but there I saw the second Bible, the one that every family had, which I opened a few times, but could not understand at all.
Of course, looking back, it is very clear that the Lord was leading me home. How could I know, back then, what God was preparing for me???!!! Exactly, when I was feeling utterly down, He picked me up, to never let go of me, and me, to never let go of Him.
The first thing I received in the mail from New Zealand was an envelope from a Maori lady, whom I met just briefly in the home of a university teacher. There was no letter or greeting card inside, just a small red book which said “The New Testament”
In fact, I did not pay much attention to the small red book back then, but neither did I throw it away. (Today it is a precious possession).
Tirana International Hotel
One day, as I was walking home from school, I saw a poster on the wall of Tirana International Hotel, which is right in the City Center that said: Learn English through the Bible. I felt an inner desire to write to that address on the poster, and ask for this English teaching course, which included a full version of the Bible. Some months later, I received the Bible from the USA, but God did not wait that long to knock hard on my door.
It was late summer in 1991 and the academic year had not yet started. One day, I go to my school to get the salary, and there I found a few of my colleagues who, curious about my NZ trip, were asking me a lot of questions about that exotic country.
As we were talking, someone came and I announced that an American couple had come to visit the school. A moment later we saw a tall man and his wife, and with them was a student of mine, who had just graduated, who seemed to be their interpreter.
“Here is my teacher,” I heard him say to them while pointing at me as we stood up to welcome the guests.
We invited them to take a tour of our school. As we were walking along the corridors, the tall man began to ask questions about my family, my husband’s job, home, etc, and eventually, he said: “Why don’t you go to the American Embassy and ask for a job there?” “It has never crossed my mind!” I replied. “Well”, he continued, “I will go there for you and ask. Give me your phone number and I will let you know the outcome. I am staying at the Tirana International Hotel. Here is my card.”
As they departed, I was exceedingly dubious, asking myself why a stranger would seek a new job for me!!!
Anyhow, the following evening, I was going to the Opera, which is close to the Tirana International Hotel. When we got out, I decided to go into the Hotel and ask for this man. I was feeling nervous and not sure what to expect. I had not yet reached the reception desk when I saw a man coming down the stairs. I recognized him right away and he recognized me too. We sat down in the hotel lobby and chatted. His wife joined him a few minutes later. He confirmed that he had registered my name at the American Embassy and they might call me one of these days.
The following afternoon, we invited the couple to come for a visit to our home. They arrived carrying bags filled with books. They shared about themselves telling us that they were Christians and they loved to preach the Gospel wherever they went. As they handed me the books, among others I recognized the red small book that had been mailed to me by the Maori lady, that is the New Testament, as well as some brochures.
All the time they talked and talked about Jesus with an enthusiasm that was totally contagious. That was one of the most beautiful evenings… Everybody felt as if we had known each other for years. Ralph and Jane Mann were lovely people, so easy to talk to and one could easily open the heart to them. And I think they had noticed that I was ready to receive Jesus in my life and they asked if I was willing to take that most important step ever. I felt so happy, but could not find the courage to openly admit that I had already taken this decision, but I did not know how to say it out loud.
Remember that Albania was different from any other former communist country, being perhaps the only one in the world where all religions were banned by law. To verbalize my new faith was so against everything I knew.
The next day, I met Ralh Mann in the lobby of the Tirana International Hotel, and while we were talking, he took me by surprise when he said: “If you are willing to accept Jesus in your life, I can help you right now.” My heart was throbbing fast and I could feel my eyes moistened with teardrops. I remember I said “YES”, and Ralf stretched his hands towards mine, while I let him hold them and he asked me to bow my head and repeat after him. In the end, I remember him saying, “God Bless you, Besa!” And I will never forget that moment when I prayed for the first time, not in my diary, but in a place with many people.
Soon MP Head-Office brought CBN to Tirana and we did excellent work at the only TV Station of that time, by airing the Super Book and Flying House. And later “The 700 Club”, that was welcomed by the Albanians, showing this with the thousands of letters that were mailed to our address back then.
These were followed in 1993, by the publication of the first magazine for children of that period, named “MREKULLIA” (Miracle) and in fact, it proved to be a miracle for thousands and thousands of kids, who wrote to us, expressing their love and appreciation while involving themselves in our competitions in writing prose, poetry and drawing/painting or answering to our Bible-related quizzes.
Later on, in 1996, we open the first “Miracle Bible Clubs” for kids in 4 churches, which later spread in more churches in many towns.
In 1998, we began to take the kids of the Miracle Bible Clubs, to a summer camp by the sea, that we again called “The Miracle Summer Camps”.
The three projects proved to be, what their name meant: “MIRACLES”
In 1999, during what was called “The Kosovo Crises”, many families from Kosovo came to Albania. We were one of the organizations that began to help. Thru the Danish organization “Mission East”, we came in touch with the Scottish organization “Blythswood Care” which began to bring big loads for the people of Kosova, who had found shelter in Albania. At these moments, we became the receiver of the loads as well as distributors.
When the Kosovo families returned home, our three warehouses were still full of food and other items.
It was at this time that we turned our eyes towards Bathore and began to help the first families that had come down from the most difficult areas of the country, for a better life. Bathore at that time was one of the areas that used to be agricultural land and in those days, was kind of ‘abandoned. These families, in a way ‘occupied’ this land and built simple huts, just to shelter themselves.
Being near this community for so many years now, we noticed their other need: literacy. Supported by another organization – Geneva Global, thru a literacy project we had presented to them, we began serving this community with a literacy program, teaching them how to read and write through two Bible content primers we had already prepared, followed by a warm meal and more.
That was the first building, that the ladies who joined at that time, gave the name “HOPE”, for they said ‘Whenever we come here, we leave with hope in our hearts.’
And here we are now celebrating Jesus with this community while applying various projects for the Children, Youth and Ladies!
It is a task that will go on forever, while improving every year, with our dedicated team!
Mission Possible Albania
Retired: July 2021