The testimony of a retired military man in Albania.
Llazar ‘Llazi’ Çuko retired from the army as a senior officer in 1992. In a country whose active, committed church members – whether Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants – are all much younger than in other European countries, the continued commitment that he displays to his faith is remarkable for a man of 66. Like his friend Roland Shuli, another professional soldier, he works with the Association of Military Christian Fellowships, which will soon take delivery of the pocket-sized camouflaged New Testament which the Interconfessional Bible Society is to publish. Here he tells the story of his Christian experience.
At the height of my army career, I reached the rank of a commanding officer in the artillery. Before I retired I was heading a recruitment branch — still with a lot of power. But in 1992 the Communist system was breaking up. I didn’t particularly want to leave but they were reducing the size of the military.
At a time when I was working in Greece, my daughter was here in Albania working in the International Federation of Evangelical Students (IFES). But I didn’t know about the Christian faith.
But it was God’s plan that I came back from Greece and, naturally, when I got back I asked my daughter about her friends and she asked me to go and meet them at her church.
In those days Emanuel Church met in the afternoons at the National Puppet Theatre. The preacher there that day was the American pastor of the church and I liked his manner of speaking – I liked the words that he used.
Walking a different path
Until then I wasn’t a believer at all. I thought that a lot of the things I had heard associated with the Christian faith were frankly fairytales. I come from an Orthodox background but Emanuel Church was different. I found the words of the sermon encouraging – they gave me enthusiasm; they gave me something I lacked: I hadn’t experienced a real, personal relationship with God.
Bible studies helped to draw me into faith and the church and they helped my faith to grow in. Yet even as I was growing in faith, unbelief kept on pulling me: I definitely felt a tension.
Later I accepted faith and was baptised, which was a step to maturity.
Now I can see a change in my life: I don’t walk the same path I used to. For example, my friends want to talk about politics but I like to talk about the Bible. People listen and accept what I say in a broad sense, but they don’t react in the sense of making a personal decision. Some tell me, “You’ve become religious!”
Applying the Bible
Have I experienced opposition? Well, not persecution – but distance, you could say, from certain people. Some of them say things like, “He used to be a commanding officer but now he’s a Christian.”
I was baptised in September 1998 when I was 55. After I was baptised three things happened: first, I got a new job, second, my daughter got married and then I became a grandfather!
God had his own plan for me and although in the beginning I did not understand it very well, from the day I first went to church I’ve never left it. I don’t how good a believer I am. I need to apply the Bible to my life correctly.