Reaching the Nations

Albania

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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AlbaniaGeography

Area:  93,028 square km.  Bordering the Adriatic and Ionian Seas in Southeastern Europe, Albania borders Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece.  Most of the terrain consists of hills and mountains with few plains in coastal areas.  The climate is temperate and mild with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers.  Interior areas experience wetter and cooler climate than coastal areas.  Two large lakes, Lake Ohrid and Lake Big Prespa, straddle the border with Macedonia.  Destructive earthquakes can occur as well as frequent floods and drought.  Primary environmental concerns include deforestation and soil erosion.  Albania is divided into 12 administrative counties. 

 

Population: 3,639,453 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 0.546% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 2.01 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: male 75.28, female 80.89 (2009)

 

Peoples

Albanian: 95%

Greek: 3%

Other: 2%

 

The population is overwhelming Albanian.  Estimates for the Greek population widely vary, with higher estimates from Greek sources and lower estimates from Albanian sources.  The Greek population resides near the Greek border.  Other ethnic groups include Vlach (ethnic Romanians living outside Romania also known as Aromanians), Roma, Serb, Macedonian, and Bulgarian. 

 

Languages: Albanian (85%), Serbian (8%), Macedonian (4%), Greek (1.5%), Romani (1.5%).  The Tosk dialect of Albanian is the official language.  Only Albanian has over one million native speakers (3.1 million). 

Literacy: 98.7% (2001)

 

History

In antiquity several ancient peoples populated the region including the Illyrians around 1000 BC and the Greeks starting in the 8th century B.C.  Rome controlled Albania for several centuries followed by the Byzantine Empire.  In the Middle Ages Slavic peoples arrived and the region was later conquered by the Ottoman Empire by the 15th century.  Albania declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.  Italy invaded and occupied Albania between 1939 and 1944.  A communist government took power in 1944 and allied with the Soviet Union and later China in 1978.  During the years of communist rule, limited interaction occurred with other nations as the government enforced isolation.  In the early 1990s, a democratic government came to power after nearly half a century of communism.  The transition from communism to democracy has proved to be difficult due to a weak economy, organized crime and political instability.  Distrust in the government heightened and chaos erupted in 1997 due to failed government investments offered to its citizens.  Elections have been judged as free and fair since the mid-1990s but allegations of electoral fraud persist.  Albania joined NATO in 2009 and may join the EU in the future.

 

Culture 

Albania is one of the few European nations with more Muslims than Christians.  Communism strongly influenced culture.  Cuisine draws upon many common Southeastern European foods such as gyro, pita bread, cheese, and vegetables.  Smoking and alcohol rates are comparable to the United States.

 

Economy

GDP per capita: $6,200 (2009) [13.4% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.818

Corruption Index: 3.4

Albania has struggled to make the massive transformation from a xenophobic, socialist economy to an open, free market capitalist economy.  The aging country infrastructure challenges economic growth including transportation and electricity dependant on hydroelectricity.  During the 2000s, significant developments occurred in updating the road networks and diversifying energy sources.  58% of the workforce labors in agriculture which accounts for 20.6% of the GDP.  Primary agricultural products include wheat, corn and potatoes.  Services employed 27% of the workforce and produced 60.6% of the GDP.  Primary exports include food products, clothing and lumber.  Some petroleum resources have been exploited.  Primary trade partners are Italy and Greece.

 

Corruption has decreased over the past decade.  Corruption continues to limit growth and detract potential foreign investment.  Organized crime networks are well established and have been better addressed by government in recent years.  Perceptions of corruption are strongest for customs, tax officials and some ministers.  The media has helped to fight corruption.  Many Albanians report they pay bribes to medical professionals for treatment.[1] 

 

Faiths

Muslim: 70%

Albanian Orthodox: 20%

Roman Catholic: 10%

 

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Albanian Orthodox: 700,000

Catholic: 473,000

Jehovah’s Witnesses  4,007  68

Latter-Day Saints  1,838  10

Seventh-Day Adventists  322  3

 

Religion

Albania has the largest percentage of those who identify as Muslims in Europe.  Islam arrived from the Ottoman Turks and continued to be propagated until independence. Prior to the Ottoman conquest, most Albanians were Catholic or Orthodox Christians. War and almost 50 years of communism have resulted in the majority of the population being irreligious and nominally Muslim.  Many Albanians usually only identify their faith as Islam but do not share most beliefs and practices with active Muslims.  Albanian Orthodox adherents mainly live around Tirana and in the southern interior.  Catholics are concentrated in northern Albania and Tirana.  Additional visible religious minorities include Bahai’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Latter-Day Saints.[2]

 

Religious Freedom

The constitution protects religious freedom which is also upheld by the government.  The government does not tolerate religious discrimination and seeks to protect the religious rights of its citizens.  Religious groups are not required to register with the government but registration is required in order for religious organizations to own property and have financial assists.  Public schools do not offer religious instruction.  Society generally respects the rights of minority religious groups to worship.[3]

 

Largest Cities

Urban: 47%

Tirane, Durres, Elbasan, Shkoder, Vlore, Korce, Fier, Berat, Lushnje, Kavaje.

 

Seven of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  26% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

 

LDS History

Prior to 1991 there was no Church activity.  The first visit by a Church authority occurred in 1991 when President Reber of the Austria Vienna Mission explored the possibility of beginning missionary work.  Full-time missionaries were first assigned in June 1992 and included four elders and a humanitarian senior couple serving to improve local agriculture practices.[4]  The first convert joined the Church in 1992.  In April 1993, 78 people, including 55 Albranian members, attended the dedication of Albania for missionary work by Elder Dallin H. Oaks.[5] 

 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 1,838 (2008)

The institute and seminary programs began in 1999.  By 1996 membership reached 400 and at year-end 2000 there were 881 members. 

 

Membership growth has been consistent, typically growing between 100 and 200 members a year.  Membership reached 1,160 in 2002, 1,400 in 2004, and 1,605 in 2006.  Membership growth rates have slowed as membership continues to increase arithmetically, decreasing from a high of 15.9% in 2002 to a low of 6.2% in 2008.  114 were enrolled in seminary or institute between 2007 and 2008.  In 2008, one in about 2,000 Albanians were nominal LDS members.

 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 11  Groups: 1

The Greece Athens Mission administered Albania prior to the creation of the Albania Tirana Mission in 1996.  In March 1997, the 33 missionaries and the mission president were evacuated due to disorder in Tirana.[6]  Missionaries returned the following September.  In August 1998, 24 missionaries were temporarily reassigned to other European missions due to threats against Americans.[7]  The first district in the country was created in Tirana in 1999.

 

By the end of 2000 there were seven branches: Four in Tirana, one in Durres, one in Elbasan, and the Albania Tirana Mission Branch for members in groups or in locations without a nearby congregation.

 

By the end of 2003 two additional cities had branches organized: Lushnje and Fier, bringing the total of branches to nine.  Missionaries were first assigned to Vlore in 2006 and Shkoder in late 2007.  A new proselytizing area outside of Tirana in the suburb of Kamez opened in 2008.  Vlore and Shkoder had their first branches organized in 2006 and 2009 respectively.  By the end of 2009 there were 11 branches and one dependent branch functioning.

 

Albania continued to be part of the Europe Central Area until it was merged with the Europe West Area to form the Europe Area in the late 2000s.  The Albania Tirana Mission has been focusing on preparing members for the establishment of a stake since 2008.  In mid-2009, there were around 35 missionaries serving in Albania.  By early 2010, 20 missionaries served in Tirana or Shkoder. 

 

Activity and Retention

70 young women participated in the first girls' camp in 2004.[8]  The Durres Branch chapel had 2,000 people visit during the open house following construction and had 218 in attendance for the first sacrament meeting, more than twice the usual attendance.[9]  130 young single adults and leaders attended the opening events of the first Institute Outreach Center in Albania in 2007.[10]  200 attended district conference in the Durres Branch meetinghouse in mid-2009.[11]  The average number of members per congregation has increased between 2000 and 2008 from 126 to 184.  Activity rates have worsened over the past decade as sacrament attendance has remained unchanged whereas membership has more than doubled. 

 

The Kamez Branch had fewer than 10 active members in late 2009.  The Elbasan Branch had 50 active members out of 200 in mid-2009.  The Fier Branch had 13 active members out of 70 in late 2009.  The Tirana 1st Branch had 70 active members in late 2009.  The Tirana 2nd Branch had 70 active members, 78 Melchizedek priesthood holders, and 268 baptized males in late 2009.  The Tirana 3rd Branch had approximately 45 active members in early 2010.  The Tirana 4th Branch had 60 active members in mid-2009.  The Shkoder Branch had as many as 30 active members in early 2009 which fell to less than 10 by the end of the year.  The Vlore Branch had 60 active members in early 2010.  The Durres Branch had 90 active members in early 2010.  Missionaries estimated that there were around 400 continually active members in late 2009, or 22% of total membership.  Sacrament attendance fluctuates between 400 and 500.

 

In 2008, the Albania Tirana Mission began an aggressive program to reactivate less active members, continuing to baptize and retain new converts, and increase active Melchizedek priesthood holders in order to create the first stake.  A major setback occurred in 2009 as the district president fell into inactivity and a United States expatriate became the district president.  Active Melchizedek priesthood holders continue to slowly increase but experience recurrent setbacks as some long-term active members leave the Church.  Members were told that in order for a stake to be organized there would need to be five wards with 30 active Melchizedek priesthood holders each, and an additional 16 to fill stake leadership positions. 

 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Albanian, Greek, Serbian

All LDS scriptures are available in Albanian and Greek.  Only the Book of Mormon is available in Serbian.  Many unit, temple, priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, and family history materials are available in Albanian, Greek and Serbian.  Several CES manuals are available in Albanian.  The Church has only translated the sacrament prayers and a basic unit guidebook in Macedonian. 

 

Meetinghouses

Construction on the first Church built meetinghouse began in 2005 for the Durres Branch.  At the time all the branches met in rented spaces.[12]  A second meetinghouse was completed in Elbasan in 2009. 

 

Humanitarian and Development Work

Young women in Maryland made quilts for needy Albanians in the early 1990s.[13]  2,700 boxes of food for needy families were distributed in late 1994.[14]  Aid was provided with the assistance of missionaries to Kosovar refugees who fled to Albania in 1999, including 30,000 family hygiene kits and one million pounds of clothing.[15]  In 2002, members donated 1,000 quilts to the needy in Albania and Moldova.[16]  Humanitarian missionaries helped refurnish an ambulance which was donated to the city of Kamez.[17]  School supplies were provided for Romani children who attended a school that taught them the Albanian language.[18]  In 2008, the Church provided neonatal resuscitation training.  

 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

 

Religious Freedom

The Church has benefited from the degree of religious freedom offered by a former communist nation with a Muslim-majority population. 

 

Cultural Issues

Irreligiousness is a major issue which challenges the Church’s growth.  The summertime is seen as a time for vacationing and relaxation and a period when many members stop attending church.  Active membership many vary by the hundreds according to some missionary estimates.  Teaching investigators and members the importance of weekly church attendance and living gospel teachings and ensuring that gospel habits are firmly established can be challenging as most Albanians have never actively participated in religion. 

 

National Outreach

The Church has established a congregation in most of the largest cities.  Cities with a congregation account for 23% of the population, suggesting that at least 77% of the population is unreached.  The Church is established among the most populous administrative counties.  Half of the 12 counties do not have a congregation which amount to 25% of the population.  The greatest potential for future outreach is in the largest cities in unreached counties and in suburban areas nearby Tirana and Durres.  Over 50 Albanian towns and villages have over 1,000 inhabitants and no congregations.  Potential for outreach to unreached areas is high as the Albanian Tirana Mission has the smallest population served by a mission in Europe.  Church leadership requested that no more than four missionaries be assigned to each branch in the late 2000s. 

 

The open house for the newly completed Durres Branch building provided strong media exposure as many government and civil leaders toured the building.[19]  In late 2009, the Church launched a country Internet site for Albania which included news, meetinghouse locations, and ecclesiastical materials in Albanian.  The site can assist the mission with reaching individuals living in remote areas and supply self-referred investigators.

 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The high inactivity rates are influenced by many converts coming from irreligious backgrounds and irreligious friends and family pressure.  Some congregations have seen a large drop in active membership over the past decade.  The Fier Branch at one time had around 70 active members who according to missionaries nearly all fell into inactivity within a month.   

 

One of the issues which may contribute to inactivity and retention problems is the large number of single adults and part-member families as individuals have limited opportunities for socialization and support within small LDS congregations and may face increased cultural pressures from family and peers. Many of the youth and single adults provide much of the strength of the Church and provide the greatest opportunity for long-term member activity.  A senior missionary couple served in Tirana over the institute and young single adult outreach programs in 2010. 

 

The high involvement of foreign leadership  in managing the affairs of the Church may have negatively impacted member activity and retention.  Albanian members have grown dependent on foreign missionaries to run the Church, which is still perceived as an American institution rather than as an indigenous faith.  Increasing the number of Albanian youth serving missions and returning to their home country may be the best method to reduce reliance on foreign missionaries and improve member activity.  Some Albanian converts have been rushed into baptism by full-time missionaries prior to developing habits of regular church attendance, daily scripture reading, and developing a strong testimony, fostering patterns of low convert retention and high member turnover.

 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The Church has experienced few ethnic issues as the regions in which the Church is established have few minorities.  Shkoder has seen some difficulty with proselytism and fellowshipping investigators and new converts due to the polarization of the city between Catholics and Muslims.  Regions in the south and along the Macedonian border may experience some issues integrating differing ethnic groups into the same congregation, particularly with Greeks, Macedonians and Vlach. 

 

Language Issues

The widespread use of Albanian simplifies the Church’s efforts in establishing itself throughout the country.  The large amount of materials in Serbian provides opportunity to reach the largest linguistic minority.  Opportunities to reach native speakers of Serbian, Macedonian, and Greek have not come to fruition. 

 

Leadership

The Church has seen success in having Albanians serve as leaders but only in the larger branches.  Large branches also face challenges in keeping leaders and Melchizedek priesthood holders active.  Branches created after 2000 have struggled to develop local leadership to produce a local branch president.  In late 2009, missionaries served as branch presidents for all the branches created after 2000 including Shkoder, Kamez, Fier, Lushnja, and Vlore. 

 

One of the factors limiting local leadership development is the few numbers of Albanian missionaries.  Several Albanian missionaries serving in Albania did not complete their missions.  The first Albanian missionary to complete his mission and serve in Albania was Elder Erind Çoçoli in 2008.  At the time seven additional Albanian missionaries were serving missions, three of which were in Albania.  The remaining four were serving in the United States, Russia, Scotland, and Italy. 

 

The strongest leadership potential is in Tirana.  The Tirana 2nd Branch had the most active Melchizedek priesthood holders in Albania with around a dozen in late 2009.  At this time there were 78 total Melchizedek priesthood holders in the Tirana 2nd Branch, indicating that activity rates for Melchizedek priesthood holders were lower than for total membership (15% versus 22%). 

 

Temple

Albania belongs to the Bern Switzerland Temple District.  The first Albanian family to get sealed in the temple occurred in 2000 in the Frankfurt Germany Temple.[20]  Albania will likely be included in the Rome Italy Temple district.  Prospects of a closer temple are unlikely until greater membership growth and activity occurs in Albania and surrounding nations.

 

Comparative Growth

Among nations in Southeastern Europe, the Church has experienced some of the strongest numerical membership growth in Albania, although only a fraction of nominal members attend or participate..  Only Bulgaria has more members.  Albania is the country with the second highest native membership in a nation where most the population identifies as Muslim after Pakistan.  Membership and congregational growth has sharply declined in other nearby nations but continues in Albania.  Activity and retention rates are comparable to other former Southeastern European nations due to commonalities in LDS mission policies and programs and to regional conditions.

 

Other Christian denominations struggle to develop local membership and leadership.  The largest Christian churches that arrived after 1990 have around the same number of members as the LDS Church. 

 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have experienced the greatest success with 4,000 active members and 68 congregations.  Jehovah’s Witnesses heavily emphasize member-missionary work and pre-baptismal preparation and have consequently developed sustainable local leadership and indigenously staffed missionary programs.  The LDS Church in Albania remains highly dependent on foreign missionary manpower and funds, in contrast to the Jehovah's Witnesses who have placed consistent emphasis on developing self-sustaining local congregations, building strong member-missionary programs, and require lengthier periods of convert preparation before baptism to ensure long-term commitment.

 

 

Future Prospects

There are no medium-term prospects for a stake in Albania as none of the congregations in Albania have enough active Melchizedek priesthood holders..  Cities likely to open to missionary work include Korce, Berat and Kavaje.  Some of the smaller, newer branches may have their first native branch presidents called, such as the Vlore Branch.  Jurisdiction for Kosovo may come under the Albania Tirana Mission due to cultural and linguistic similarities and the small population that the mission currently administers, although there is currently no LDS mission outreach in Kosovo. 

 



[1] “Corruption in Albania 2009,” Institute of Development, Research, and Alternatives, 2009. http://www.idra-al.org/cs2009/Corruption%20in%20Albania%202009%20-%20Summary%20of%20Findings.pdf

[2] “Albania,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127295.htm

[3] “Albania,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009. http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127295.htm

[4] “4 European lands dedicated,” LDS Church News, 12 June 1993. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23051/4-European-lands-dedicated.html

[5] “4 European lands dedicated,” LDS Church News, 12 June 1993. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23051/4-European-lands-dedicated.html

[6] “ ‘Reluctant refugees’ leave Albania,” LDS Church News, 22 March 1997. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29612/Reluctant-refugees-leave-Albania.html

[7] “Church reassigns missionaries serving in Albania,” LDS Church News, 29 August 1998.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/31537/Church-reassigns-missionaries-serving-in-Albania.html

[8] “Albania girls camp largest in 12-year history,” LDS Church News, 28 August 2004. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46040/Albania-girls-camp-largest-in-12-year-history.html

[9] Jurgens, James. “Albania chapel,” LDS Church News, 9 December 2006. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49852/Albania-chapel.html

[10] Leonhardt, Lavar and Frances. “New Outreach Center,” LDS Church News, 31 March 2007. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50317/New-Outreach-Center.html

[11] “Progress is encouraging,” LDS Church News, 20 June 2009. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57495/Progress-is-encouraging.html

[12] Harrison, Jill. “Ground broken for 1st Albanian chapel,” LDS Church News, 27 August 2005. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/47766/Ground-broken-for-1st-Albania-chapel.html

[13] Bennett, Betty. “Young women quilts benefit donors and recipients,” LDS Church News, 8 January 1994. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/25268/Young-women-quilts-benefit-donors-and-recipients.html

[14] “Food being shipped to families in need,” LDS Church News, 3 December 1994. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/24827/Food-being-shipped-to-families-in-need.html

[15] “Church continues sending aid to refugees of Kosovo,” LDS Church News, 8 May 1999. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/35723/Church-continues-sending-aid-to-refugees-of-Kosovo.html

[16] Mary Ellen W. Smoot, “Developing Inner Strength,” Ensign, May 2002, 13. 

[17] “Ambulance donated to Albania,” LDS Church News, 17 August 2002. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42275/Ambulance-donated-to-Albania.html

[18] Mattox, Raymond. “Members are good citizens in Albania,” LDS Church News, 20 June 2009. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57493/Members-are-good-citizens-in-Albania.html

[19] Jurgens, James. “Albania chapel,” LDS Church News, 9 December 2006. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49852/Albania-chapel.html

[20] “Albania,” LDS Church Almanac 2003, p.274