Blood revenge claims life of Albanian pastor

Posted on December 23, 2010 by VMMissions Staff

On October 8, Pastor Dritan (Tani) Prroj died in a busy plaza in the center of Shkoder. Similar to Jesus, he was executed in his early 30s for the sins of others. His crimes? Belonging to the wrong clan, refusing to stay imprisoned in his own home, continuing his public ministry although knowing he was a target.

The 21-year-old youth who pulled the trigger was instigated by the customs of blood-feud (gjakmarrje) based on ancient codes of the Albanian mountains, similar in some respects to Old Testament law. He believed he was preserving his family’s honor, since Tani’s uncle murdered his relative five years ago. According to the codes, a man’s honor (nder) is holy and God-given. If violated, it’s never forgiven and “can be paid for only by spilling blood or magnanimous pardon.”

In northern Albania, if a man or his relative commits murder, he and his relatives are to be hunted until that blood is avenged, after which new blood must be spilled to avenge the revenge, creating an endless cycle of violence. The codes permit a man to imprison himself indefinitely in his home to protect himself from the avenger. Women and priests however were off-limits. Presently an estimated 800 to 1000 families in northern Albania live under fear of gjakmarrje.

During the years of hiding in his own home, Pastor Tani considered leaving Albania for safety. They actually went to England for several months where he was offered a pastorate, but he felt called to return to his people in Albania. What an example for the Albanian church that has been plagued by emigration! But Tani and his wife, Elona, chose ministry over life itself. Several weeks before his death when a fellow pastor cautioned him about exposing his life to risk, he replied, “I’m tired of living as a prisoner. I’m the only man in my family who is ready to die. If I can save the other men of my family by my death, so be it!”

David Hosaflook, a missionary in northern Albania, writes, “I am honored to have known and co-labored with Pastor Tani. . . I was most impacted by his tenacious drive to take the Gospel to those in need. He was passionate and resolute… and loved the right things.”

How will the church in Albania respond to this tragedy? More than 500 people from churches all over the country attended the funeral and marched together through the city. Several weeks later, the Albania Evangelical Alliance organized a march in the capital city of Tirana, to stir up the government to action in dealing with this problem. They are asking Christians everywhere to pray that the stronghold of revenge be replaced with a spirit of forgiveness and peace, as the testimony of his life and death become known; that God will show Himself strong and bring life out of this death. Pray too for Albanian pastor Mondi, who ministers weekly in the very prison where the young murderer is incarcerated.

Note: for additional information about gjakmarrje (blood revenge) see article at rosedalemennonitemissions.org by Caleb Zimmerman. Broken April by Ismail Kadare is an excellent novel on blood revenge, published by Vintage, 2003.

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