By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TIRANA, ALBANIA (BosNewsLife)-- Preparations were underway Saturday, September 22, for American preacher Luis Palau's first evangelism festival in Albania, one of the world's least evangelized nations.
"Since 1985, I have loved Albania, I have read about Albania, and I always dreamed that someone would invite me," Palau told reporters ahead of the two-day event in the capital Tirana.
In separate remarks, the evangelist said he had urged prayers that "many many hundreds, perhaps thousands will be converted" during his September 22-23 'TiranaFest' at the capital's Mother Teresa Square.
Palau proudly announced that already 62 of some 100 professional women, including executives, made a "public commitment to Jesus Christ" during a luncheon he hosted this week.
"Twenty-seven want to be called for talking," the Argentina-born preacher added, speaking in his trade-mark rhythm English.
The Oregon-based Luis Palau Association said the festival, organized with local denominations, was the "first unified effort of churches in four decades" to spread "the Good News" of Jesus Christ in Albania.
(Watch Luis Palau talking about his evangelism campaign. Story continues after this).
Organizers recalled that in 1967, the Albanian government declared Albania the world’s first "purely atheistic state", with devoted Christians among those facing severe persecution.All churches and religious institutions were closed and atheism was taught at schools under the autocratic regime of Communist leader Enver Hoxha who oversaw what Palau called "the most Marxist-Leninist state that you can imagine".Albania began allowing private religious practice again in 1990, but Palau said there are still relative few Christians in this Balkan nation of over three million people.
"There were only five believers twenty years ago," when Communism collapsed, he stressed. "Now there are several thousand, maybe maximum 10,000 to 12,000 [believers] in the country." However other church observers, including advocacy groups, say there was already an underground church of devoted believers active even under Communism, despite persecution.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, the Luis Palau Association said Albania’s "small but passionate community of believers is hungry for God to move."
It noted that, "Nearly every evangelical church in Albania has been working to make TiranaFest with Luis Palau a reality."
Organizers said the festival also received "full cooperation from the prime minister, president and Tirana’s civic leaders," while Albania's main networks were advertising the event on television.
The visit to Albania, a still impoverished nation seeking membership of the European Union, marks another milestone for Luis Palau who last year became the first American preacher to publicly visit Vietnam since the Vietnam War.
His organization claims Palau has so far preached "faith in Jesus Christ" to over 1 billion people through radio, television, the Internet, books and articles, including 28 million people face-to-face in 72 nations.