Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maintaining Integrity Despite Persecution

The following experience and photos from: (pgs 144-147 of the 2010 Yearbook), is about Brother Sotir Ceqi during the 1940's in Communist-ruled Albania.

(Sotir Ceqi)

"I Will Keep Preaching"
Sotir Ceqi was a devout Orthodox who lived in Tiranë. As a child he had tuberculosis of the bone and suffered excruciating pain in his legs. When he was 17 years old, he became so depressed that he decided to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. Shortly before he was about to do so, Leonidha Pope, a relative, visited him. Not knowing what Sotir was planning, Leonidha told him that Jesus cured the sick and that the earth would be a paradise. He also gave Sotir a copy of the Greek Scriptures, which Sotir immediately began to read.
"It was like water poured into me," said Sotir. "I had found the truth!"
Within a few days and without further contact with Leonidha, Sotir reasoned: 'The Bible says that Jesus preached. The apostles and disciples all preached. Obviously, that is what I must do.'

(Sotir's relative, Leonidha Pope)

So, Sotir set out to preach. With the Greek Scriptures in one hand and his crutch in the other, he courageously went from door to door. During those years the Sigurimi, or Directorate of State Security, was responsible for protecting the nation's security. Ever alert to any apparent threat to Communism, they could hardly fail to notice Sotir's bold preaching. They arrested him, held him for hours, beat him, and ordered him not to preach.
When Sotir was released, he contacted Leonidha, who took him to Spiro Karajani, a doctor who had learned the truth some years earlier. Besides medical attention, Spiro helped Sotir get a better understanding of the truth.

"If you are arrested again," Spiro advised Sotir, "before you sign anything, count every word and every line. Draw a line after their words. Don't leave a space. Read everything carefully. Be sure that what you sign is what you said."

Just two days later, the police caught Sotir preaching again. At the police station, the officers ordered him to sign a statement. As he was about to sign, he remembered Spiro's advice. Despite pressure from the police to sign quickly, Sotir took the time to read every word.

"I am sorry," he said, "I cannot sign this. I did not say these words. If I signed this document, it would be a lie, and I cannot lie."

The police responded by making a whip out of a rope, which they used to beat Sotir for several hours. When he still would not cooperate, they forced him to hold two wires and repeatedly gave him excruciating electric shocks.

"When I could hardly stand the pain," Sotir later recalled, "I prayed with tears. Suddenly, the door swung open. There stood the chief officer. He glanced over and quickly turned his head away. 'Stop!' he ordered. 'You're not supposed to do that!' " They were all fully aware that torture was against the law. The police stopped the torture, but they did not stop putting pressure on Sotir to sign the document. Still, he refused.

"You win!" they eventually said. Reluctantly, they wrote down the statement that Sotir himself had made in which he gave a fine witness. They handed him the document. Despite hours of beatings and shock treatment, Sotir read every word carefully. When a sentence ended halfway across the page, he drew a line at the end of the sentence.

"Where in the world did you learn that?" asked the amazed officers.

"Jehovah taught me not to sign what I did not say," replied Sotir.

"Ok, so who gave you this?" asked an officer, handing Sotir a piece of bread and a piece of cheese. By then it was 9:00 p.m., and Sotir was ravenous, not having eaten all day. "Was it Jehovah? No. We did."

"Jehovah has many ways of providing," Sotir replied. "He just softened your hearts."

"We'll let you go," said the frustrated officers, "but if you preach again, you know what will happen."

"Then do not let me go, because I will keep preaching."

"You'd better not tell anyone what happened here!" commanded the officer.

"Just get out of here!" barked the police.

Sotir was one of many who were tortured that way.
It was only after this faith-testing incident that Sotir was baptized. For years, mail was censored and only sketchy reports trickled out of Albania. As travel and meeting attendance became increasingly risky, brothers around the country started to lose contact with one another. With no central organization, it was difficult to get a clear picture of what was happening. Nevertheless, the number of those who embraced the truth continued to grow. In 1940 there were 50 brothers and sisters in Albania, and in 1949 there were 71.

Isn't it incredible, that with such a small amount of Witnesses, (not even the size of one full congregation), that brothers like Sotir, were willing to take up the preaching work all by themselves when necessary, and maintained their integrity for so many years under such harsh political repression?