August 03

August 2003

Dear Friend,

In July I accompanied our son, Ryan, on his first visit to Albania. Ryan, 27, is an Occupational Therapist living in Baltimore, Maryland. He has a big heart for people with disabilities. Ryan stayed three weeks longer than me spending most of his time at God Loves Albania (GLA). GLA is the only program in Albania - secular or religious - for people with disabilities. Gessina Blaau, a dynamic woman from Holland who has lived in Albania since 1991, directs GLA. Gessina is only four feet four inches tall but she is a giant of faith. She has built GLA from scratch to a unique ministry that provides therapy for scores of disabled children and adults. Ryan may return to GLA. During his brief visit he developed a love for Albania and its people.

A SPECIAL NEED FOR "THE LEAST OF THESE": This past year, GLA's staff hand-dug a huge swimming pool with a wheel-chair ramp for water therapy. It is the only pool like it in the Balkans. The pool will also be used by several Albanian church youth groups. The pool is nearly finished and in use. But it lacks a circulation pump that costs $15,000. The water sits in 95F degree weather. I told Gessina to buy a pump and I would do my best to find the funds. Without any doubt, to be blind or lame in Albania places you among "the least of these" in Europe. If you are interested in meeting this need, there is a response slip enclosed.

THE DICTATOR'S DECREE: Even though my visit was brief, it was one of my most memorable. In 1967, Albania's dictator, Enver Hoxia, declared Atheism to be the official religion of Albania. He bulldozed hundreds of churches and converted many into recreation centers, bars and warehouses. The penalty for possessing a Bible or a cross, or even making the sign of the Cross, was a ten-year prison term. Albania was a nation in prison. It was the North Korea of Europe. Hoxia died in 1984 and communism fell in 1990.

We have been engaged in Albania since 1992 working primarily with lawyers and the judiciary as they seek to lay a solid foundation where justice can take root, be nurtured and grow. There has been great progress in Albania in many areas, including religious freedom. Albanians are ethnically about 60% from the Muslim tradition, and 15% each from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. About 1% of Albania's three million people identify themselves as Protestants and Evangelicals.

THE ATHEIST DICTATOR'S "HOUSE CHURCH": On Sunday, July 6, 2003, it was my privilege to speak at the morning and evening services at a church in Tirana planted by Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. Grace Church was our church home for nearly a decade until we moved to Virginia in 1980.

What made the Sunday meetings in Tirana particularly exciting was the location of the new Church. The 100+ person congregation meets in Enver Hoxia's former personal residence! The atheist dictator's house is now literally a "house church!" Alfred Mustafa, a young lawyer who participated in our 1999 Washington DC Convocation, worked with a contact in Albania to negotiate a five-year lease on Hoxia's former house. Albania is among the most open nations in Europe to religious minorities. They've come a long way!

THE CHANCELLOR: Another exciting meeting was with Toni Gogu, a former youth pastor and the current president of the Evangelical Alliance of Albania. Toni is a law school graduate who helped draft Albania's Constitution. He participated in our 1998 and 1999 U.S. Convocations. Today Toni is the Chancellor (Chief Administrator) of Tirana's District Court. He serves the 50 judges who work in a beautiful new computerized courthouse. It is hard to imagine the progress made since our first meeting with the Albanian Chief Justice in 1992. When we asked how we could serve him, the Chief Justice told us that the Supreme Court had no writing paper! The fact that an evangelical now administers Albania's largest judicial facility is more evidence that religious freedom and equal opportunity are becoming realities in Albania.

THE YOUNG LAWYER'S MISSION: Today there are at least 20-25 followers of Christ in the legal profession in Albania, including several judges. I spent one evening with a group of seven bright, young Christian lawyers, including one young man who is blind. There is significant discrimination against people with disabilities in Albania. I challenged these young lawyers with Advocates Albania to consider taking on a project to help draft laws that would eliminate the unfair policies and practices impacting people with disabilities. This month, they launched a weekly e-mail Prayer Calendar to keep their national network informed.

We thank God for allowing Advocates International to have had a small role in helping "the land of the eagles" transition from a closed, atheist totalitarian system to an open society where justice and religious freedom are taking root.

We also thank God for the commitment of Advocates' Board members, U.S. judges and lawyers who have invested substantial time, talent and treasure in Albania over the years.

Finally, we thank those of you who have prayed and supported our work in Albania, the Balkans, Europe and the world. There is significant fruit from your investments, as we continue...

Living in His-Story,

Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President

P.S. In August and September, we will hold regional conferences in Africa, Latin America and Europe. Your gifts will enable lawyers like those in Albania to come together to "spur one another on to love and good deeds." Hebrews 10:24-25.