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Albania is a small, mountainous Balkan country bordering the Adriatic sea, Greece and republics of the former Yugoslavia.

Once part of the Ottoman empire (hence the large Muslim population), Italy invaded and controlled Albania during World War II. Communists then took over, and Albania became a Stalinist state which - under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha - suffered decades of xenophobic isolation, brutal repression of human rights, and attempted extermination of religious belief.

Orthodox cathedral in S.E. Albania

Many curious, round bunkers built to shelter the population from a feared invasion by American or other forces during that era still dot Albania's countryside and towns.

In the new Albania, while the country is of course transformed in terms of its openness, development has been erratic. An attempted 'pyramid' financial system in the early years of economic freedom collapsed, plunging many back into poverty. Although new roads have been built, infrastructure outside Tirana remains poor.

Unemployment is high, with many Albanians reliant on small family enterprises and subsistence farming for daily living. Social problems such as drug abuse blight many lives, and health-care services are under-developed.

Tensions between Albania and neighbouring republics have also remained high following the Balkans wars of the 1990's.

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Albania map1

Area: 11,100 square miles (less than a quarter England's size) Capital city: Tirana

Population: 3.6 million. Languages: Albanian (official). Greek & Slavic languages (minority).

Religion: Muslim; Christian (mostly Albanian Orthodox & Roman Catholic); non-religious.

Christians in Albania

In 1967, Communist dictator Enver Hoxha said: 'Albania declares there is no God', thereby pronouncing it the world's first and only atheistic state. Such was the apparent success of the regime's brutally repressive tactics during a period still referred to within Albania as 'The Age', that there were just 5 known surviving evangelical Christian believers in the country at the time.

Little more than 20 years later, more than three-quarters of Albania's population express some form of faith in God. And, amidst an historic and resilient - though often nominal - Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic population, there is now also believed to be an evangelical Christian church, fellowship or witness in every town and city in the country.

Pray for the light of Jesus to be made more widely known still, within Albania and among the Albanian diaspora in neighbouring countries (where many face poverty and descrimination), and beyond.