In November, 2016, IAPS advisor David Young requested to retire from our Advisory Board after nearly two years in that role. Young graduated from Cambridge University in 1968 in Modern and Mediæval Languages and from 1987-2011 was director of the Albanian Evangelical Mission. He published many books and booklets on Albanian Protestant history including “Lëvizja protestante midis shqiptarëve, 1908-1991” (Prishtina: TENDA 2011). Young remains available to assist us when needed but desired to focus his efforts more directly towards more pressing historical interests. We interviewed Young in honor of his service to the IAPS and contributions to Albanian history.
1) You have made significant contributions to Albania’s spiritual heritage and to the historical record. Please tell us how you first learned about Albania and what prompted you to become involved?
In 1965 I lived for a while in Swabia with a family who had escaped from Thüringen, in eastern Germany, after the war and settled in Backnang. I also met people visiting from, or concerned about, Christians under Communism in eastern Germany (die Ostzone). I began to read about eastern Europe and to listen to speakers at meetings. Some mentioned Albania, but Reona Peterson’s book Tomorrow you die and Gjon Sinishta’s The fulfilled Promise, both published in the mid 1970s, really gave the fuller awareness of the situation in Albania itself.
2) What is the Albanian Evangelical Mission and how was it formed?
The Mission as first called the Albanian Evangelical Trust. At the 1984 annual prayer conference for Albania, held in Shropshire, Edwin Jacques was the main speaker. I called for an organisation of some kind to be set up to channel personnel, expertise, gifts, prayer, planning into bringing the Gospel to Albania. The Trust (later renamed Mission) was formally founded in April 1986 with the dual purpose of making the Gospel known to the Albanian people, and fostering Evangelical church among them.
3) How did you become interested in Albania’s Protestant history?
By reading some of Edwin Jacques writings, exchanging letters with him, and having him and Dorothy stay at our home in 1984, I became aware of a history I had not previously known about. This fitted well with my interest in the story of Gospel work through the centuries in the wider world.
4) Which stories within the Albanian Protestant Movement have been the most inspiring to you?
I think the stories of Reona Peterson and Koci Treska probably rank highest.
5) Tell us some of your favourite places in Albania (or related to Albania) and why.
Probably my most greatly loved place is Suli, in Çamëria – and indeed when I humorously write under a pen-name, I become Daut Çami! Suli used to be in Albania; now it lies within Greece. It was there that the Christian (Orthodox) Albanians mounted their final resistance, unto death, in the church at Kougi, against the invasion of Ali Pasha’s Muslim forces in 1803. On the mountain near Kougi stands Ali Pasha’s fortress of Kiafa. You can read about some of these people, places and events in Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, in Edward Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter, and in Arthur Foss’s Epirus (Faber, 1978). You can park below Kiafa fortress, climb up to it, and walk round its impressive ruins, with Edward Lear’s description of it when it was a working fortress in your mind. You can go to the ruins of the church on the hilltop at Kougi And during all this you will also be amazed at the majestic mountains on every hand, and the Acheron Gorge below, one of the ancient rivers of death in Classical myth.
Also, of course, Korçë, with its deep Evangelical history, the welcome I received there in 1991 and beyond, and the people I met from the Evangelical work of the 1930s and the Communist years. It was where the Mission first put down roots inside Albania. Its location makes me want to re-phrase Psalm 125:2, saying, “As the mountains are round about Korçë, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and for evermore.”
6) You recently donated a large library and archive to the IAPS. Please describe the material you donated and how you think it can inform and inspire young students.
It is too wide a collection to describe in brief: personal journals, photographs, out-of-print books, fruits of archival research are included. I would like it to make three contributions to God’s work: (1) to buttress the faith and confidence of Albanian believers by demonstrating the long, deep and noble presence of Albanian Evangelical in their land and culture: it is not a religion brought in recently by foreigners; (2) to help establish the legal presence and public acceptance of the Evangelical community in Albania and other Albanian areas; (3) to be a factor in the drawing towards Christianity of unbelievers inquiring into the faith.
7) You served with the IAPS for two years in an official advisory role. Now that you are “retiring” from that role, tell us the new projects you will be focused on.
There was a powerful and sustained revival and evangelistic movement in my home area of northern Hampshire from the 1830s till the 1860s, the story of which has never been researched and chronicled. I have studied that and my book on it has been published by a Christian publisher in England (The great River). In the later period, the Evangelical churches of England largely turned away from the doctrines they had inherited and went into theological, spiritual and numerical decline. I am currently working on a sequel to the earlier book, but this time not focussing on one geographical area, but tracking the causes, themes and personalities which led the betrayal of the theology of the revival and the decline that set in from about 1880.
To address the second part of the question first: I personally would not produce a second volume, because to do so would require access to archives which I do not have, in Albania, Kosova, Italy (for the Arbëresh), Turkey (for the Bible Society), America and Hungary (for missionaries), Germany (for the Bible women), and doubtless elsewhere. I hope others will make the attempt. The book I did produce arose largely from the published and unpublished writings of Edwin Jacques, from the archives of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Cambridge, and from personal interviews in Korçë, Greece, Korova and Sicily.
9) How do you think IAPS is doing so far and what should we try to do better in the future?
I am well impressed with the work done so far, and feel privileged to have played a small part in it. It is hard to know, from here in Wales, what might be undertaken or improved in coming years, but history shows that individuals and societies linked to the Protestant faith often drift away from that faith as time passes and become involved with a wider religiosity. I would therefore suggest that, as the coming decades unfold, your council and advisors maintain vigilance concerning the focus of the Institute, namely study of the Protestant community among Albanians, and that when the time comes successors are found with the same focus of research, purpose and interest. I also suggest, more immediately, that someone with a good knowledge of Greek be sent to Vagia and Mavromati, in Thessaly, to record as much as can be concerning the 20th century movement among the Arvanitika people, both from personal interviews and from Greek archives, local and judiciary; and that promising graduates in History or Albanology be encouraged to undertake postgraduate research into the Albanian Protestant movement.