Cleveland, GA - When you first meet Artenis Islamaj, the first thing that you’ll probably notice is his eyes: green inquisitive eyes that mainly search the floor when he speaks. He quietly walks in my office with blue jeans, a five o’clock shadow, a red backpack slouching on his back, and a crooked smile painted across his face. We sit down with my questions, poised and ready to hear his story.
Artenis Islamaj is an Albania native currently taking classes at TMC but majoring in multilingual communications in his university in Germany. His hope is to one day master English, Spanish, and German.
Artenis is not at Truett-McConnell College by accident. He affirms that it was God that opened a door for him. In the university he attends in Germany, he is required to study abroad during the fifth semester. Artenis had applied to the United Kingdom but was unsuccessful and that’s when his pastor told him about the opportunity to study in the United States at Truett-McConnell College.
Both he and the pastor prayed about this and got in touch with Dr. Daniel Moosbrugger, vice president for student services. After learning more information about TMC, Artenis decided this is the path he wanted to take. Though the embassy requires that you apply for a visa 90 days before your departure date, Artenis applied only three weeks before and acquired a visa. He also received a scholarship from TMC.
Artenis’ story does not end there, however. He was raised in Albania and grew up in a Muslim family. At the age of about seven or eight, he attended a children’s school where he learned Arabic, verses from the Koran, and cultural songs. The school closed one year later.
When I asked him how he came to know Christ, he laughs.
“Do you want the long story or the short story?”
“The long,” I say chuckling.
“Well, I heard about an American that gave away shoeboxes with gifts. I went there to get a shoebox. I think it was about…Easter. After that I kept on coming back on Saturday because we would play games and I would see other children from the neighborhood,” He says.
Artenis says he never took the weekend classes seriously. But, God was dealing with him because when he went home, he would think about songs and stories from the Bible.
“They used to speak about death and the meaning of life. And that God has a purpose. It was strange because no one ever talked about that,” He says.
It was taboo in his family to talk about death or the afterlife. He quietly says that he felt lost as a child and frequently thought about the afterlife.
During his time at the weekend class, the children would get Bible verses to memorize and win prizes. This drove Artenis to memorize verses each time, and he meditated on those verses when he got home.
One week, Artenis says that he went to the school every day. He continued to learn about the aspects of God and started loving church even more. At this time, he began to realize that he was a sinner, and started awakening to the differences between Christianity and Islam.
“The wages of sin in the Bible is death. In the Islamic religion, you can just do something good to appease the sin,” He says.
At thirteen years old, Artenis was still continuing to learn the teachings of Jesus, and began to question why people, after seeing God incarnate, crucified Jesus. This led him to realize his own sin and so he tried, out of his own will, to get better and to get his life in order. However, life only got worse. He realized that he couldn’t do it on his own.
One day in class, the teacher read Romans 10:9. He had never realized how simple it was to become a child of God.
“You just have to put your faith on what Jesus Christ did. It sounded so simple to just believe with the heart and confess with the mouth. So, I raised my hand during the invitation and confessed my sins to Jesus. I gave my life over and received what he was willing to give me” He says.
As for his family, he says that they still continue to practice Islam. However, they are more Islamic by heritage rather than by conviction. His family knows that he is a Christian and they are happy to see how his decision has affected his life.
When I asked him whether he had any fears about going back to Germany or back to Albania, he speaks of only one fear.
“I only fear that my family won’t be perceptive to Christianity. They say every religion is okay and that we all have one God. I don’t have the fear of being disowned but I am afraid that my family will not respond to Christianity. The fact that they won’t receive Jesus Christ because they don’t feel like it’s important.”
Curious about his decision, I ask why he chose Christianity.
“I’m not a specialist in religion,” he laughs “I was just amazed about the teachings of Jesus. I thought Jesus could not just be someone ordinary or just a simple prophet. He was the son of God because of what He said and practiced. I used to be insecure about what would happen tomorrow. I wanted to be sure about eternity and Jesus offered that assurance. At first, I tried to combine Islam and Christianity. You know, ‘do good works and God will not hate me.’ But, I realized that my salvation does not depend on my good works. It is great to do good works but you do not do them to be saved. In other religions, your good works lead you to a better place but that is not the case with Christianity!” He exclaims.
Artenis leaves the U.S. in two weeks. He hopes to study theology after he finishes his bachelor’s degree. However, he worries that his family will stop sponsoring his studies if he decides to study theology.
“I’m grateful that God made this possible at Truett so I could study for one semester because I don’t know what will happen next.”
As for his future plans, he says that he feels like God wants him to go to missions but he is not certain.
“I’m praying about it and also trying to figure out whether God wants me to be a missionary in Germany or somewhere else. Right now, I do know that God is calling me to children’s ministry and evangelism. As far as my personal life, it’s all up to God” he chuckles
The mission of Truett-McConnell College is to equip students to make a positive impact for Christ through disciplined scholarship and Christian discipleship. For more information about Truett-McConnell College call 706-865-2134 or visit us online at www.truett.edu
Written by: Vicky Kaniaru