On a Mission
Fourteen years old.
And not a friend in the world.
Valbona Vasili will never forget the feeling.
"I would stay in the house and cry almost all the time," she says. "I really wanted friends, but I didn't have any. I was so lonely."
And she had nowhere to turn—not even to God.
Because in Albania, where Valbona grew up, turning to God was against the law …
For years, Albania was the only country on the planet that completely banned religion, proudly calling itself "the most atheistic nation in the world."
Albania's communist government closed all of the churches, mosques and other religious buildings. Faith of any kind was illegal. You could go to jail for just owning a Bible, whether you read it or not.
"We weren't allowed to even say the word 'God,'" says Valbona. "So I didn't know anything about him."
But in 1990, when Valbona was 14, things began to change. Communism collapsed throughout Eastern Europe. Albania's government lightened up a little. And Albanians started wondering if there might be a God after all.
The rest of the world was watching, and many saw an opportunity. Missionaries started making plans to visit Albania. And that's when something happened that would change Valbona's life forever.
Somewhere in America, a teenager took a step of faith, joining a team from Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for a short-term trip to a godless country on the other side of the world … a country where a lonely 14-year-old girl wanted, more than anything, to find a friend.
How could that American student missionary have known exactly what Valbona needed that summer of 1990?
She couldn't have known. But God certainly did.
The YWAM team visited the seaside village of Sarande, Valbona's hometown. The team members went knocking door to door, telling people about God's love.
Then it happened: God brought the American student and Valbona together. On the surface, there wasn't much to the meeting. The American just smiled and said, "God loves you," and gave Valbona a New Testament and a little pamphlet.
And then she was gone, off to knock on the next door. Simple as that.
Valbona went back inside. She tossed the New Testament aside and looked at the pamphlet, her eyes riveted to the words on the cover:
"The Best Friend for You."
Valbona, 14 and friendless, turned the page and started read. And she was blown away.
"It said that there was someone who sees all my tears, who knows I am lonely and loves me very much," she says. "It said he wants to be my best friend. And on the last page, it said who he was. It was Jesus. Jesus was the person who wanted to be my best friend. Jesus was the one who died for me.
"At that moment, I knew that God existed."
God had made his first move. And he had used a student missionary—an American teenager who had decided to follow God's call—to do it.
Valbona didn't become a Christian that day. But she started thinking about God. A lot.
A year later, another YWAM team came to Albania. They gave Valbona another New Testament. This time, she read it.