First of all where is Kosova? Well we wouldn’t blame you for not knowing. The Republic of Kosova, which is the youngest country in Europe, has a very complicated history. Today, Kosova lies between four other countries: Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and FYR Macedonia. If you’re still not sure where that is, or you’ve only heard of those places on the Eurovision song contest then think just North of Greece and across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Or, failing that, here’s a map:
Kosova is 1,500 miles (about 2,400km) from London. There’s only one airline that flies direct between London and Prishtinë (the capital of Kosova), alternatively you can fly to Tirana, Albania or Skopje, Macedonia and drive a further 3 hours to Kosova.
If Kosova was a person on Facebook it’s relationship status would say “It’s complicated”. Over the last several hundred years Kosova has been part of various empires including the Roman Empire when the region was called Illyricum and, in his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul mentions the region:
“Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done – by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Romans 15:17-20
You might be thinking that Illyricum sounds a lot like the name Ilir. Well you wouldn’t be wrong. Ilir literally means “freedom” or “to be free” and comes from Illyria or Illyricum as it’s root. In fact in the Albanian Bible the word “Illyricum” appears as “Iliri” in the above passage. Perhaps we’ll write a post about Albanian names, it’s an interesting topic.
Anyway back to history. Kosova was also part of the Ottoman Empire (1455-1912) which may account for the strong Turkish influence in the culture here. More recently it was part of Yugoslavia (again, very complicated) between 1918-1941 and then between 1945-1992. You can read a comprehensive history of Kosova online if you have the time and the inclination but we won’t go into any more detail here.
What is important to know about where we live and serve is that:
- Kosova is an independent country as of 17th February 2008. This is recognised by 112 out of 193 UN member states.
- 92% of Kosovars are Albanian (according to the Statistical Office of Kosova, 2005).
- 95% of the population are Muslim (nominal), 4% are Christian (Catholic) and 1% are of another religion (according to a census taken in 2011)
There is a really strong sense of Albanian identity here. If you visit Kosova you’ll see that the Kosova and Albanian flags are sometimes used interchangeably. In fact many people would chose to use the Albanian flag rather than the Kosova flag to demonstrate their cultural identity.
OK, so we’ve explained where Kosova is, now we’ll tell you where we live. Gjakovë is the 7th largest municipality in Kosova (out of 38) by population size. It’s located in the South West of Kosova on the border with Northern Albania. Gjakovë was damaged very badly during the 1999 war, the entire old town was destroyed and the village of Mejë is known for the horrific massacre of 377 ethnic Albanians on the same day. Gjakovë has 5 evangelical churches which is quite a large number compared to cities such as Prizren which has none. The city has been home to many missionaries and NGOs since the war in Kosova and a few still remain.
In every country you have regions that are known for something or are often used as the butt of a joke. In the UK Essex and Norfolk (amongst others) are sometimes the butt of jokes for various reasons. The term for a person from Gjakovë is Gjakovar and Gjakovars have a reputation within Kosova for being stingy/tight with money. Even within Gjakovë you have terms for different types of people: “katunar” is a villager, and a “qytetar” is a townie and each is sometimes the butt of the other’s jokes.
The war in Kosova really needs it’s own page, there is no way that you can really explain it all in just a simple paragraph but fortunately it is easy to find accounts and explanations of what happened online. What is important to note is that every family in Kosova was affected by the war in some way. Everyone has a relative or friend who was killed in the war and many people can remember what it was like to be a refugee including Ilir who was just 9 years old during the war.
We hope this page helps to give a good idea of where Kosova is and why, through it’s complicated history, it is important for us to be here serving the Lord with the church.