Entertaining Global Peace with Albanian Besa?

What can we learn from the Albanian besa that promotes peace instead of conflict?

There I stood in the middle of the small village in the northern mountains of Albania. The year was 1996. It was still a momentous time in the history of the small nation. The Berlin Wall crumbled on November 9th, 1989 and with it, the collapse of the USSR; there stood Albania teetering on the brink of a new direction. Students gathered in the center of the capital of Tirana in 1990 and others joined. They wanted a new life, a new direction, a new hope and they protested for it. And then Albania opened. The first declared atheistic state of the world opened its doors and emerged from the shadow of its ruthless dictator of 40 years, Enver Hoxha.

In the mountain village, my team and I had already obtained permission from the local mayor of the town to set up in the central green area of the village. We talked with the villagers as we erected a simple double-sided screen. That evening we were showing the most translated movie of all-time, the Jesus Film. The night showing was in the Albanian language.  My team of college students were hopeful to share with the people and stay in the village for the next week or longer, if possible.

As the sun dropped behind the large mountains of the north, the time was getting nearer. All around me there was activity and excitement and many of the villagers were finishing their day in the fields and homes and joining around us. And then I heard some commotion. There appeared to be a heated debate. Raised voices, some yelling, and an argument was becoming the focal point there on the grass. One of my Albanian teammates came up to me and told me what was happening.

The local Imam was having a vicious argument with the mayor. His threats were serious and although I had permission from the mayor earlier in the day to show the film, the mayor himself packed up his stuff, got on his cart and bid me and my team a generous farewell for the evening. His permission was thence revoked – in its place the next order of authority – the local Imam.

When Albania opened, they opened fully, allowing all in – both Muslim and Christian alike. All evidence of religion was wiped away during the Hoxha atheistic rule. Thus, many a mosque and church were erected when the doors opened in this small European country.

Like many places before on Earth that have been the battlegrounds of religious violence, ancient Illyria is no exception. This too was a place of contestation, a place where life was lost from shed blood – an ancient pagan peoples become Christian and then in the 15th Century a conquered people become Muslim. With so many years of religious experience, it was no small feat to transform the society in the mid-20th Century into an atheistic state, sending all remnants of religious adherence underground as buildings, monuments, and anything religious was destroyed.

I was told that less than 6 Albania people in country were Christian when it opened. I don’t know if that is true but what is true is that the Albanian people were held back from actualizing their true potential all based on the notion of atheism through Communistic dictatorship for 40 years.

The Imam approached me with zealousness in his eyes. His words were loud and they were directed at me. My Albanian team told me he was threatening my life and that if I showed the film, he was going to come back and shoot us with his shotgun. I protested. I said there was nothing to fear from this film and didn’t even his scriptures acknowledge Jesus? I had the permission of the mayor, even if withdrawn, and the village people were gathering, wanting to see the film. Why was he blocking it?

The argument intensified and so did my passion. However, from the edge of the green there came another commotion. This time one of my teammates was involved. The Imam had already stormed away readying himself to realize his threat – no doubt if he failed to do what he said, his reputation would be lost. He must have felt we were a real threat to his leadership and way of life – I felt like we were allowing people to make up their own minds. I was determined to show the film and risk an encounter.

The second commotion, I came to find out, was generated from another villager. The village man told my teammate it was true that the Imam would kill us and that just last week the nearest village on the next ridge stabbed a Dutch Christian missionary and stripped his clothes naked as they literally kicked and stoned him out of town. The village man reasoned for peace, for tolerance, and for our safety with all passion he could muster. He offered his protection and his hospitality. He offered his besa.

The Albanian besa. What a beautiful thing.

We agreed to go with the man offering his besa, but I didn’t know what it meant – my Albanian teammates did though.  The man urged us away because, by giving his besa, he now was between us and the Imam – he was putting his life on the line for us, the strangers. We packed up our things, explained we were sad to not show the film that many had gathered to see, and said our farewells. I was pretty upset about the whole thing and my teammates prayed and helped me along as we walked from the green to the man’s house down the mountainside through narrow village streets.

He explained he would take care of us. He explained, his home was our home. He said, anything we wanted he would get it for us. He even said he would ask many village men to stand watch all night long to protect us. And that is what he did.

We met his family, talked about life, broke bread together and stayed safe all night long as he gave us all the comforts he could. It really was remarkable. He opened his home to us, complete strangers, with no strings attached. The Albanian besa.

Was it just coincidence? Was it just a thing for this village? No, the besa is an Albanian tradition. It is their code to walk by honor and duty and hospitality. It is welcoming the stranger – it is the Albanian besa.

A recent article by the BBC explains another encounter with the Albanian besa through eyes of the refugee exiles flooding into Albania and Macedonia during the Kosovo-Serbian conflict.  I saw that flood and its aftermath first hand in 2001 when I went to Kosovo. The BBC article asks what can be learned from Albanian trust?

I echo that same question for us as well, what can we learn from the Albanian besa that promotes peace instead of conflict?

Three things I would like to highlight about the Albanian besa that move us toward peace:

  1. Albanian besa welcomes the stranger. Think about how you feel when you are welcomed. Being a person of welcome is already a step towards peace. What if we were so welcoming that we invited strangers in need to our home? Maybe an immigrant, maybe a person at church, maybe someone who just moved to your town from another, maybe the poor and downtrodden. These people are everywhere. They come into my country all the time. They stand on my corner with “Help!” written on cardboard signs daily. I was welcomed as the stranger in Albania. Thankfully the church is rallying, ever it be slowly, to welcome the stranger better. Ministries like the Welcome Network exist in many places that work to build coalitions with churches and others, along with events that raise the same kinds of welcoming questions are growing more frequent.
  1. Albanian besa puts others first. What a concept! In our world of ‘I got to have mine!’, putting others first is rarer and rarer. Increasingly we are a self-interested, narcissistic, me-first attitude people. I fight against this tendency internally every day. In my worldview as a Christ-follower, it is called sin. It shouldn’t be a surprise to Christians that our world bends in that direction. The fall of Satan was due to this attitude. The fall of mankind was through this attitude. I was really amazed that this man, not a religious man according to his own volition, would give his Albanian besa to me and my team and put us first. What if we all willingly put other first – wouldn’t that, even as hard as it is, promote peace?
  2. Albanian besa honors real community. Real community – whew how difficult to find! It has been said that it takes a village to raise children, but where are our villages? In the United States, they are all but disappearing. I hope where you live they are not. Do you know your neighbor? Do you let your kids run free in the neighborhood in which you live? What are your work relationships like? Do your co-workers ever come over to your home? Where is community in your life? I find community at home, at work, and at church. In Albania, I found the man who welcomed me was truly interested in conversation and interaction with me and my teammates. Community promotes interaction, it promotes accountability, and it promotes resolution. Community provides the grounds for conversation. And with conversation comes the potential for peace.

So what can we learn from Albanian besa? A lot. I’ve tried to point out just three, but of course there is more. And why the emphasis toward peace? Because we need it. Where there is peace, there is life. We need peace in our lives. We need peace in our country. We need peace in our world.

Ultimately, I found eternal peace in my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But not everyone agrees with that and I am ok with that because I value others opinions and thoughts. I have friends from all walks of life and I pray for them. I don’t know how good I am at welcoming the stranger, putting others first, and promoting real community, but I hope to improve. In a sense I hope to engender more Albanian besa.

In is natural that we won’t always agree with others and we won’t always think the same as others. But what if we welcomed the stranger, put others first, and  worked to create real community? What would our world in 2050 look like if we did more of that?

There are clear links between what I’ve drawn on between Albanian besa and what the Bible discusses on these topics. If you are interested, here are a few links in that direction.


Author: Dr. Jason E. VanHorn
Support for this Blog Theme comes with additional funding from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship (CCCS) and Calvin College.

Blog Themes of A World in 2050

Based on past and current patterns, researchers show what could be a possible future. Is that the future then?

The half-way point of the 21st Century has become the newest marker toward projection of what the world will be like. Global and local models are made that try to indicate and predict over the course of the next 35 years, what kinds of environmental and human challenges can we expect if current trends continue.

Based on past and current patterns, researchers show what could be a possible future. Is that the future then?  No, not necessarily. However, analysis of existing trajectories can help us make smarter and more informed decisions as we consider conservation, stewardship, and proactive measures on Earth.

How is the world changing and how can we understand what the world potentially will look like in 2050 and beyond? What are the deepest geo-related concerns and how can we began to formulate ideas and innovation that counter trends that are unsustainable? These are the types of questions that we hope to consider and reflect on with you in the current foci of the blog. We welcome your participation.

So what are some of the top areas of concern that geo-experts and others are working toward deeper understanding? There are many ways to set this context and I want to build a template for what kinds of topics we might engage with over the next academic year with this blog theme. Not all blog posts will be about 2050 but most will discuss change and give deeper reflection on these themes I’ve outlined below. These themes are interrelated and sometimes dependent on each other and although they present challenges to consider and they are not exhaustive.

  1. Population. As one of the paramount driving forces for most other concerns, population challenge can be summarized as we arrive at 2050 into three corresponding realities:
    • Nearly 9.5 billion people living on the planet, up from 7.1 billion currently;
    • Of the 9.5 billion people, about 7 out of 10 people will live in cities;
    • Population growth between 2016 & 2050 will be most dramatic in developing countries and primarily situated on the Asian and African continents.

See the UN report details here


  1. Water. We need water to live and with the population pressures (numbers of people) and the location of those people (mostly urban), we face a challenge to have adequate clean water.
    • Almost 5 billion people might not have a clean and adequate source of water for drinking;
    • Sanitation systems that use water are inadequate to handle human waste in many parts of the world currently.

See the report: The Future of Global Water Stress: An Integrated Assessment


  1. Food. As a vital resource, food security remains a top concern. Larger populations mean larger needs for food.
    • Kinds of animal foods, like fish in the ocean are already overfished;
    • Monoculture farms present challenges to pollination by the honey bee, our best pollinator;
    • Loss of arable land and loss of top soil from run-off pose questions about farm;
    • Crop pest intensification by shifts in climate could create unstable annual yields;
    • Applied pesticides entering into soil and water systems pose significant health issues for our bodies.

See the report as to solutions offered by the FAO


  1. Human Health. With the rise in populations and the industrial-sized animal farming done on a daily basis across the planet, the health of our human population will be challenged
    • Increases in health problems related to food diet and carcinogens is increasing;
    • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in mass production and applied to humans and the planet in massive doses which means these newer strains of bacteria would not be treatable;
    • Global transportation of the population and urban population density increases could mean more easily transmitted disease,

See the World Health Organization’s risk assessment here


  1. Land-use. With challenges toward 2050 the manner in which we treat our lands and environments will matter even more.
    • The extraction of minerals for technology advances is likely to stress land resources and surround natural habitats;
    • Trees and forest are continuing to decline and prediction of tree canopy loss are larger than gains.
    • The realities of oil use and dependence leave questions about who will have oil, where will it come from and who will it be used;
    • Renewable energy gains could provide demand from large populations questions about adaptability and cost for developing countries will remain a key issue.

See the Global Forest Watch Interactive Map here


  1. Cryosphere. The frozen waters present on earth are currently challenged.
    • Ice melt and sea-level rise remains on a trajectory to occur in significant way putting stress on our large population numbers living on coasts;
    • Geopolitical fall out with a newly accessible Artic Ocean could increase tensions on rights of access and control at the north pole.

See the current modeling of our cryosphere here


  1. Climate. The challenges linked to shifts in global climate pose significant challenges towards 2050.
    • The increase in desertification continues to threaten many areas of human population;
    • Rising sea-levels mentioned above in the cryosphere remain a challenge;
    • Polarization of peoples on the issue of climate continues to depreciate honest communication and discussion;
    • Shifts in flora and fauna that are unable to adapt to change give way to loss of biodiversity and new trajectories for disease.

See the WFPs map on Food insecurity and climate change here


  1. Geopolitics. The challenges to our global system of governance continues to rise with the interconnected technologies and communication and sophisticated military advances
    • Dependence on technology has led to a rise in distrust between sovereign nation-states;
    • Global movements of population is historically unprecedented and immigration shifts continue to pressure nation-states in new ways;
    • Asymmetrical violence is easier today than yesterday and technological advances make larger geographies vulnerable to attack;
    • With the rise of religiously motivated terrorism has come questions about religions role toward peace instead of conflict.

See Metrocosm interesting visualization of human migration from 2010-2015

  1. Technology. The benefits of technology continue to drive exciting innovation but at what costs?
    • Reliance on technology to meet energy needs will be challenged and with advances and demand there could be larger blackouts and new systems of control by nation-states linked to energy;
    • With new technological breakthroughs, traditional governance new issues have arising in the areas of privacy, genetics, and cyberwarfare;
    • With increased technological means, dangers of criminal actions of data hijacking, identity-theft, intellectual property rights, and computerized banking leave our digital lives more vulnerable;
    • Ways of life with dependence on robotics, smart cars, and wearable virtual realities for everyday living, although intriguing, leave new ethically and legal questions that might be outpaced and in use before thoughtful discussion and implementation.

See the Norse map on recent cyber attacks from their server network

  1. The Poor. Will we rise higher and support the poorest peoples and countries as they are impacted the most by the challenges?
    • Orphan numbers continue on the rise reports indicate there are between 140 and 210 million orphans in the world;
    • Human trafficking continues to rise as does slavery;
    • Aged population remain in continual in concern as the prediction of mental health and Alzheimer’s is sky-rocketing.

See the work on the Human trafficking flow map

  1. Biodiversity. Human populations, shifts in climate, and over tapping resources are driving forces towards larger and more devastating extinction.
    • Ecosystem destruction is on the rise with loss of biodiversity;
    • With the loss of biodiversity often large scale extinction of life has occurred in the past;
    • Food systems dependent on biodiversity may be challenged and thus, increase food insecurity;

See more from Nature on Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity


  1. Urbanization. If 7 out of 10 humans will live in cities will urban environment promote healthy living?
    • Urban population increases mean more pressures on a variety of systems: water, food, sanitation, education, health, and justice;
    • Natural disaster impacts on unprepared and overstress urban systems present enormous challenges to protect people and place;
    • With city density increases, jobs are necessary, yet unemployed and young populations without jobs promote increase concern for violence;
    • Adequate and affordable housing for growing urban sectors remains a constant challenge.

See more from Luminocity’s World City Population interactive map


Of course there are many more important challenges before us and these set the context for much of our discussion.

In the coming weeks and months, we hope to discuss a variety of topics to bring deeper reflection on these and other kinds of issues. Using a quote from one of our participants from our Facebook page, Dan Riemersma mentioned, “I think, in a way, that I have always desired a GEO dept blog that uses a geographical voice to speak to the deep needs of the world, whether now or in the future. That’s what I really enjoyed as a student, and hope many more can learn too from this blog.

With the context set of a world moving toward 2050, we invite you to join us as we reflect deeper.

Author: Jason E. VanHorn
Support for this Blog Theme comes with additional funding from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship (CCCS) and Calvin College.

Thinking of Year 2050

“We’ve started a new blogging initiative…to begin thinking about 2050.”

We’ve started a new blogging initiative in the GEO Department with the beginning of the autumn term 2016 at Calvin College. That is to begin thinking about 2050.

Why 2050? As we approach the mid-way point of our current century, there are many dire predictions set around this date. Case in point, the United Nations uses 2050 as a waypoint for many of its current projections, such as:

• population 2050 projections

• and food security by 2050

We plan want to explore these projections and to consider them in light of our school mission, to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as we engage in the world as Christians.

Why blogging? As faculty in the classroom, we engage with our students about living between tensions. Often our ideal (hopes, dreams, desires for it and its people) of a specific geography is in tension with the reality (challenges, dangerous trajectories, injustice in it). As educators, we aim toward transformation and innovation through discovery. This blog will be about living in those tensions along a variety of topics that intersect the disciplines of geology, geography, and environmental studies.

It is clear with present trajectories of year 2050 that our tensions might be great indeed.

We hope you will join us and build this learning community.

Support for this Blog Theme comes with additional funding from the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship (CCCS) and Calvin College.