As a young atheist growing up in a communist country that imprisoned and executed believers, Plator Collaku was determined to join the fight against God and His people.
Just like the Apostle Paul, Collaku started his life attacking Christians, but God had different plans.
Now this former atheist is leading a revival like never before seen in this Eastern European country.
Collaku grew up in Albania in the 1990s, just after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Like any curious teenager, he pondered many questions about life, but God and religion were subjects he didn’t want to hear about.
When he was given a Bible as a teenager, there was an address inside for a Christian meeting in his hometown. After first refusing to go, he changed his mind when a classmate told him “cute girls” would be there.
After deciding to attend, he planned to disrupt the meeting with a question that had been piquing his curiosity: Who created God?
“It was almost impossible to give a reasonable answer,” the young atheist recalled.
After attending the meetings for six weeks, often disrupting the teaching, a church leader told him he was merely fighting with God and challenged him to read his Bible.
One verse stood out to him, Matthew 7:7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
Collaku challenged God to reveal Himself to him.
Six months later, he gave his life to Jesus.
“In those six months, God was working in my heart and changing me from a person who didn’t believe in Him to a person who fell in love with Him forever,” Collaku tells Calvary Chapel Magazine.
Years later, as a Christian, he led the development of a day center for street children in Albania and is now the director of a boy’s orphanage.
He also oversees two Christian churches and three church plants that are in the process of becoming affiliated with Calvary Chapel Church in New Jersey.
Religion was once outlawed in Albania under the harsh regime of communist dictator Enver Hoxha, but Christianity is now on the rise.
Collaku is doing his part. Last fall, he helped host a two-day Biblical Leadership Conference that included 140 pastors and leaders from four Eastern European nations.
It also featured three pastors from New Jersey: John Durante, senior pastor of Jersey Shore Calvary Chapel in Point Pleasant Beach; Frank Ippolito, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Vineland; and John’s cousin Michael Durante.
Michael Durante is the pastor of Hope Albanian Church, an evangelical church that ministers to Albanian immigrants in Elmwood, NJ.
Collaku organized the conference to teach biblical leadership to the churches he oversees. Even church leaders in Albania don’t have a deep historical understanding of scripture having grown up in a country where Christianity was banned for so many years, he said.
“One of the biggest things I [emphasize] is discipleship. We want leaders who are strong in the Word of God,” Collaku told the magazine.
“We talked about the characteristics of elders and deacons. The churches are now in the phase of setting up elders and deacons; the structure of the church should be based on the biblical writings of the apostles.”
Collaku invited leaders from 30 evangelical churches and organizations from Albania, Macedonia, Greece, and Kosovo.
“The Lord gave me an opportunity I couldn’t even set up for myself,” John Durante said. “You don’t have to ask a pastor twice to teach a group of young people who are highly motivated to learn about God and biblical leadership.”
The pastors taught from the Books of Nehemiah, Ephesians and Timothy about how to build a church and implement effective church leadership.
“Honestly, all we did was typical, humble, verse-by-verse teaching, taking the Word of God at face value and applying it literally,” John Durante said.
Collaku envisions one day having a church in every town and village in eastern Albania around the town of Korce, which hosted underground Christian churches during the years of communist rule.
“Our desire is to see these communities transformed by the Gospel … by the spoken Word and good deeds,” he said.
Most of the conference attendees were between the ages of 18 and 35, many young Christians “with a heart for God,” Collaku said.
“I’m blessed by their energy, by the way their lives have been changed,” he said. “Some of them have come from drugs and very bad behavior.”
“That’s the power of the Gospel. It transforms people.”
“Once we started teaching, they ate it up,” Ippolito said. “They were all so on fire, excited about Jesus and wanting to serve Him.”
“I saw a lively group of people who were hungry for God’s Word. The verse-by-verse teaching was almost like throwing gasoline on the fire.”
American Tom Grimes, pastor of The Refuge Church in Tirana, Albania, a Calvary Chapel church plant, said more young families are attending Albanian churches than in the past.
“It’s neat to see a second generation coming,” he said. “Married people with families are coming out to Tirana and [other churches in] Albania to serve and show how to live as Christian families.”
“I know God has a plan for Albania. Even when I get frustrated or worn out in what I’m doing here, God reminds me that I’m here getting ready for revival.”
Durante hopes to see his small New Jersey church and the larger Calvary Chapel fellowship continue to support the missions and ministries in Albania.
He sees God working miracles there.
“I feel like God’s getting ready to do something [big] there,” he said. “He’s raising up His Church, building a foundation that’s preparing them to serve.”