By Loretta Fulton
Irena Bytyqi didn’t believe in the resurrection until she experienced it.
Her husband, Burim Bytyqi, found it hard to deny God, although he said he was an atheist.
They took different paths, but both ended up in the same place, as Christian missionaries, thanks to meeting during a training session for Youth With a Mission, (YWAM), an interdenominational missions organization with 1,100 locations worldwide.
Today, Burim and Irena work out of the Tyler office. They were in Abilene Nov. 21 to present the program at the weekly chapel service at McMurry University. The two have been missionaries for 15 years, Irena said, and have been in the United States three years.
Irena is from Albania and Burim is a native of Kosovo. They both speak Albanian and English. In her early life, Irena lived under communist rule in Albania.
“We never really heard about God,” Irena said. “This was the environment I grew up in.”
When Irena was 10, communism failed and the country opened up to outsiders. When she was 12, a group of Christians came to her hometown and stayed two months. They didn’t proselytize, they just played games with the children, leaving Irena to wonder why.
The day before they left, they visited her home with a translator and gave her a New Testament and Christian literature in her native Albanian.
“I was so excited to receive a book from my new friends,” Irena said.
But then they left and Irena didn’t have anyone to process the information with or to ask questions of. When she read about the resurrection of Jesus, she was skeptical.
“That’s a good story” was her reaction.
Then one day she took a bus to church and as she was leaving after the service to get back onto the bus, she was hit by a car.
“I remembered that I only whispered, ‘Jesus,'” she said.
Her father was incredulous. He told her she should have died from the trauma and that no one could believe she was alive. Then she believed in the resurrection.
“That was the day and the time,” Irena said, “that I decided to give my life to Jesus.”
Burim also experienced communism while growing up in Kosovo, but people had the freedom to practice religion. His family was nominally Muslim, he said. But he struggled with questions about his purpose, his goal and where he was going.
In 1998-99, Kosovo was at war with Serbia and that prompted more questions for Burim. Why were people killing each other? He hated the fighting and he hated life. He considered himself an atheist, but had a realization.
“I was having a hard time denying God’s existence,” he said.
After the war ended, missionaries came to Kosovo, and Burim’s cousin became a Christian. She knew Burim was looking for purpose and answers to his questions. She gave him a copy of the Gospel of John.
“It’s life-changing,” he said. “I read it, and I ran out of questions.”
Burim was 15 at the time. His life started having meaning. He understood that Jesus didn’t promise an easy life, only that he would be on the journey with Burim and other believers.
Burim’s life was so positively affected by his conversion to Christianity that he became a missionary with YWAM. He urged McMurry students and others at the chapel service to share their love of Christ as well.
“If we really know him, “Burim said, “let’s share him.”