God's listener - Albanian army man Berti Dosti - April 2011
Journalist and author JOHN BUTTERWORTH tells the exciting story of Berti Dosti, the Albanian army captain who risked his life by tuning in to Christian radio
It takes great faith to continue broadcasting a Christian programme into a closed country for 22 years, despite never having received a letter to prove anyone was listening.
In July 1968, the European Christian Mission (ECM), through Trans World Radio (TWR), began beaming the Way of Peace programme from Monte Carlo into Albania, after the Stalinist dictator, Enver Hoxha, declared that his nation had ‘abolished God’ and it was the world’s ‘first atheistic state’.
The radio station continued to send in its message to the most isolated country in the world, even though anyone caught listening to foreign radio programmes risked imprisonment or death.
However, when the Communist regime was overthrown after 47 years and the borders were opened in 1990, ECM workers were amazed how many Albanians had been tuning in secretly to their programme.
One of those was Captain Berti Dosti, who had been awarded the third highest military medal in Albania. His job as a signals and radio expert was to listen in for the West’s invasion plans.
While he was scanning the airwaves he didn’t discover an enemy, but he did find God through becoming a regular secret listener at great danger to himself and his family.
Berti later left the army and is now the pastor of the thriving Way of Peace church in Lushnje, an hour’s drive south of the capital Tirana. He is also the principal of the successful Victory School teaching English to 500 Albanian youngsters.
The birth of the modern Albanian Church, and the one that Berti helped found, was not an easy one as the country faced anarchy when a pyramid scheme scandal brought down the government, followed by the problem of 500,000 refugees escaping the Yugoslav war by coming to Albania.
But Albania has a rich Christian heritage with theologians pointing out that the Apostle Paul probably visited Albania. By 59AD, Dyrrachium, now the port of Durres, had its first Christian bishop and up to 70 Christian families living there.
Berti describes being brought up in Enver Hoxha’s Albania, what happened the day the Stalinist dictator died and the difficulty of starting a church from scratch after, in the words of one believer: “God had been stolen from us for 47 years.”
This amazing tale shows that the Book of Acts can come to life 2,000 years later and that Christianity is a message of hope. As Stephen Gaukroger says in his foreword to my book: “Even the ‘gates of hell’ will not prevail against the Body of Christ!”
I have visited Albania three times now and I am amazed how this country has changed from an isolated Stalinist dictatorship to a Western democracy, a member of NATO and wanting to join the European Union.
Although Albania is very poor and only opened its borders to the rest of the world 20 years ago, it is a beautiful country, with friendly people and tremendous potential.
I was invited by the Ambassador of the Republic of Albania, His Excellency, Mr Zef Mazi, to visit the Albanian Embassy in London last November. Berti and I presented a special copy of the book to the Ambassador and gave another signed copy to pass on to the President of the Republic of Albania, His Excellency, Mr Bamir Topi.
• John Butterworth is the author of God’s Secret Listener (Lion, £7.99).