Dani heard loud cheering as he walked toward the local café. A televised soccer game was coming to an end. Cafés like this, dotting Albania by the thousands, are the social centers for men who gather there daily. As the excitement had died down, Gjergji noticed Dani approaching, so he waved him over to his table. It had been a long time since they had seen one another. It was very unusual for Gjergji to be at the café this early in the day. His circle of friends gathered much later, but for some reason he had decided to watch this soccer match at the café.
Gjergji, like Dani, was once a professional soccer player—a star goalie back in the day. Now he coaches our city’s team. To his players, he is more than just an athletic trainer; he is their mentor. Gjergji has influence in this city, especially on the young men he coaches.
Gjergji’s and Dani’s greeting was warm and robust, with the usual handshake and the placing of cheeks together on one side and then the other while they asked about each other’s family members one by one. “Bring my friend a raki!” Gjergji shouted to the waiter.
Dani smiled and politely raised his hand to stop the waiter. “No thanks, Gjergji. I don’t drink alcohol. I would like a sparkling water, though.”
Gjergji eyed him for a moment before speaking. “Okay, I know, I know. You’re Muslim, but so are most of the guys here, and they aren’t so strict as you. Go ahead! Nobody here will tell the guys at the mosque.” Dani took a deep breath and sent up a silent prayer.
“Actually, I’m an Adventist,” Dani said.
“What did you say? An Atheist?” I don’t think I’ve ever met an Atheist who doesn’t drink alcohol!” A couple of guys listening to the exchange laughed.
“No,” Dani responded, “An Adventist believes in God and follows Jesus.” Gjergji cocked his head slightly. “Now I’m really confused. It sounds like a Christian.”
“Yes, exactly!” Dani smiled, “I’m a Seventh-day Adventist Christian.”
Gjergi’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “How can that be? Your father was an imam! I understand that there are Muslims who decide to be atheists, but how is it possible for you to be a Christian? And what kind of Christian doesn’t drink alcohol? What type of Christian did you say you were?”
Dani chuckled. “I’m an Adventist, Gjergji, along with my wife, my son and my daughter. I made a choice to avoid alcohol.”
Gjergji pulled his chair closer to the table. He leaned in and lowered his voice. “This is very interesting. Tell me more!”
Dani was happy to comply. Over the course of an hour, he shared the gospel story and how his own life had changed since he had begun to follow Jesus.
“What makes you different from other Christians, other than the fact that you don’t drink alcohol?” Gjergji asked.
Dani went on to explained how he believes that Jesus’ death on the cross was the price and the cure for our sins. “He was sinless, but He took our sins upon Himself and paid the price for us so we could have eternal life. We can never earn that salvation. No amount of good deeds, priest’s prayers or lighting of candles will save us. It is Jesus’ free gift! All of us have sinned, and the result of sin is death. Jesus loves us so much that He chose to suffer and die in our place. But the grave couldn’t hold Him. He was resurrected, and He’s alive today and forever! Anyone can choose to accept this gift of salvation by faith and accept Jesus as Lord. But we Adventists also believe that the Ten Commandments are God’s law of love given as a guide and a blessing for mankind. He knows what’s best for us. Adventists choose to accept those guidelines because of our love, gratitude and trust in God.” Dani mentioned several of the commandments about not stealing, murdering, committing adultery or worshiping idols before mentioning the fourth commandment. “We remember the Sabbath every week on the seventh day as God commanded. It’s like a weekly holiday given to us as a blessing from God. He created everything in six days and rested on the seventh day. He set apart the Sabbath day from the other days of the week as a consecrated day for us to remember and worship Him.”
Gjergji listened thoughtfully. “Don’t the Jews keep Sabbath? So, why don’t other Christians keep it? Don’t they believe in the Ten Commandments? I think they would agree on the other commandments. In fact, I think most Muslims would accept the other commandments, too. Why is the fourth commandment different?”
Dani smiled. “Those are very good questions, Gjergji! The fourth commandment is the one commandment God specifically said to remember even as He gave it. Maybe that’s because the Sabbath was given for all of mankind at creation, and He was reminding the Jews who had just come out of hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery and had forgotten the Sabbath. Also, maybe He said ‘remember’ because He knew mankind would be prone to forgetting the importance of that commandment in particular. It reveals God as the Creator. He even wrote these Ten Commandments in stone with His own finger! That shows that every commandment is important. Shouldn’t we all give it some serious thought and study?”
“I’ve never heard anything like this before. I want to know more!” exclaimed Gjergji. “In fact, I want my whole team to hear about this! Will you come and tell my 20 guys these things and more?”
Dani’s heart soared. “Of course! I would be honored!”
As they parted that day, Gjergji made one more request of Dani. “Do you think you could give us some advice on quitting alcohol? Some of us need help with that.”
Dani replied with a smile, “I’ll be happy to do what I can, but only God can give the strength to overcome.”