Engaging the Culture Around the World
The Knight of Skanderbeg Order:
A Fight for Faith, Family, and Freedom in Albania
When Pastor Akil Pano defended the God-ordained institution of family in a nationally televised debate in Albania, he and his wife Linda knew the backlash was coming.
Lobbying for a dramatic redefinition of the nation’s family code, LGBTQ protesters stormed the doors of their church donning rainbow masks and flags – looking for a confrontation.
Now a well-known media figure due to his countercultural defense of the family, Akil explains how “we are facing the global leftist agenda like never before.” He has been hosted on some of the nation’s largest television and radio networks debating political leaders on this subject, and now LGBTQ activists are suing him as they demand “that the right of gay couples or those with other sexual preferences to be recognized in Albania, as well as the right to adopt and then register one or more children.” The draft law also intended that the right of adoption be granted to persons who were not married.
This directly contradicts the natural design of family, but also the nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children, which demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being.
Akil was deemed “not guilty”, but now faces another round of charges, this time by the State itself. Knowing he would need more resources and backing, a missionary in Albania helped connect Akil and Linda with Focus on the Family, so the Pano’s could be better equipped to stand in the gap for parents and families.
Focus on the Family helped put Akil and Linda in touch with resources that helped Albanian leaders see this from the perspective of the child’s needs, rather than the adult’s wishes. These resources have done thorough research and have deep insight on how redefining the family is harmful to children and society.
This support helped the Pano’s make the case that what they stand for is not “against LGBTQ people” but FOR children. Every family that is formed according to the new gender theory is a family that, by definition and intention, denies every child it touches the mother and father that they yearn for and need; that the nature and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, says they should have. Katy Faust at Them Before Us was the primary source; she even traveled to Albania to participate in a conference they held.
When the Pano’s went to battle, they did so by coaching those within their organization, the Albanian Family Coalition, on child-centric language to oppose changes to the family code, wrote to Parliament, interviewed on national networks, and even met with the Albanian President, Mr. Ilil Meta.
Linda Pano reminded us that Albania was once one of the most severe communist regimes in the world.
In a shocking turn of events, The President of The Republic of Albania in an official ceremony in the Presidential Palace through a presidential decree has honored Akil with the high title: “The Knight of Skanderbeg Order.”
Skanderbeg is The National Hero of Albania who during the XV century, for 25 years protected Europe and Christianity from the Ottoman invasion. This ceremony had a wide media coverage.
“We give all the glory to God”, Linda says, “and we pray that He will use this medal of high honor for the causes we are standing for: The advancement of the Gospel in Albania. Defending the Family and building a society of values.”
The importance of defending the family demonstrates its clear tie to freedom of speech and even freedom of faith. It is vital we continue to help empower more believers to speak not just “their” truth, but the truth in church, at home, in the media, the culture, and the courtroom – all across the world.
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
– Mark 16:15
Focus South Africa’s Mission in the Midst of Gender Violence
When COVID-19 struck in 2020, there was a worldwide message of caution that spread beyond borders — stay inside. Employees worked from home, students participated in school online, and venturing outside of the house became a rarity.
Like most of the world, South Africa implemented a lockdown with the hope of stopping the spread of the virus. Homes were supposed to be safe havens from potential illness. However, as the lockdown continued, the country found that not everyone was safe inside. South Africans soon faced an unexpected second pandemic – women around the country were becoming victims of domestic violence.
A war against women
In July 2020, 28-year-old Tshegofatso Pule was found dead, hanging from a tree outside her home. She was 8 months pregnant, and her murderer was none other than her boyfriend.
Her death, along with the 2,700 women and 1,000 children killed last year in South Africa, has started to bring global awareness to the intense vulnerability of South African women. In a country where femicide is five times higher than the global average, gender violence has become a norm.
Most of these cases happen intimately within the home. Because South African law enforcement views domestic violence as a family matter, many women are stuck in abusive relationships until it is too late. The problem grew worse with the past year’s installation of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, where the amount of crime significantly rose.
“The women were forced to stay in their homes, so they had to tolerate and endure the abuse,” Anthea Nagoor, the director of counseling at Focus on the Family South Africa, says. “There was no escape from domestic violence.”
Not only were these women trapped inside and isolated from family and friends who could help, but local services provided support were not accessible. Victim-friendly crisis centers were shut down and not viewed as essential work at the time, so there was nowhere to turn to report a crime or seek assistance. With a lack of support and requirements to stay inside, the violence quickly started to escalate, shocking the nation when 21 women and children were killed within the first four months of lockdown alone.
“There’s little value for a young lady’s life,” Anthea explains. “There’s a real war that’s going on against women and our young girls in South Africa.”
A passion to help
When Anthea learned about the gender violence happening in her country, she was outraged. She had seen story after story of female murders in the news, and her heart was breaking for the women and young girls whose lives were being robbed daily.
One night, after hearing about a mother and child who were killed, Anthea was having trouble sleeping. Suddenly, she woke up with a song in her head. A musician as well as a counselor, Anthea says the song, called “Until the Tide Turns,” is to show women that staying in an abusive relationship is not worth their life.
“It was the first time I wrote something that was not a worship song,” she says. “I felt like I needed to get it out there and create a witness. It’s a message to women to inspire them to break free.”
Anthea’s passion for abuse victims carries over to her work with Focus on the Family South Africa’s counseling team. Through face-to-face and online counseling, Focus counselors in South Africa help these women heal from trauma and give advice for healthy families. When women are in dangerous relationships, the counselors also provide referrals for shelters and crisis centers so the women can find safety from life-threatening situations at home.
“It’s often through counseling that the women are empowered enough to make a decision and see the option to leave,” Anthea says.
Outside of direct counseling, Focus South Africa also speaks out to bring awareness to the devastation that gender violence is bringing to the family structure. In a culture where women are seen as less than men and many of the female victims remain voiceless and unprotected, Focus aims to change the mindset and spread insight into God’s vision for gender roles and what family is designed to be.
“As Focus on the Family, we have to defend the family,” Anthea says. “We have to protect and preserve the family by standing up to any forms of abuse.”
Breaking the cycle
The destruction of gender violence is not contained to women alone. Part of the long-lasting effects of domestic abuse is how it cyclically influences the next generation.
“Children all over South Africa have to bear the brunt of domestic violence,” Anthea explains. “Then, sadly, they repeat the cycle. They grow up thinking violence is normal, and then they are violent themselves. So the generational error is repeated if there is no intervention.”
One of Focus’ goals is to speak influence into the culture with role models who can demonstrate Godly relationships and spread the message that violence is not acceptable or normal. When children realize that they have God-given dignity and a purpose, then they begin to understand what a healthy, nurturing family could look like.
“It’s easier to build young people than fix broken men,” Anthea explains. “In building our youth, we teach them about family. What’s the role of a mom? What’s the role of a dad? What’s a healthy relationship? How do you deal with anger, how to cope with stress — basic things like that. There’s so much room to speak to young people about relationships.”
The mission to preserve families in South Africa cannot be accomplished alone. Anthea says that the only way gender violence will end is if the world works together, hand-in-hand, to protect women and the structure of loving homes.
“It’s not just an African problem,” she explains. “It’s a global problem. And people should be invested in it because there is a cause to save our women, to save our children. In doing that, we save our families. In doing that, we save our nation.”
Khongoroo Tuya, CEO of Focus on the Family Mongolia has a full slate in front of her as she tries to serve the families in her country.
She is a mother of two, including a toddler, and there are only four people on her staff. Translating existing Focus resources is either a sizable outsourced investment or a massive time commitment for the team. And Mongolia barely has any church network or Christian media outlets to partner with. But Khongoroo has found creative ways to reach families.
As a licensed counselor, she is a regular contributor for the website www.ikon.mn. This is one of the most widely read news sites in Mongolia, and has published dozens of articles from Focus Mongolia, with each one receiving tens of thousands of pageviews. Khongorzul’s expertise as a
family counselor and gift for writing resonates with ikon.mn’s readers. Her team has also begun creating Facebook live videos, some of which have been watched more than 200,000 times. These low cost, wide distribution channels allow this small office to reach a huge number of families each year, and lay a foundation for a brighter future with stable and loving family relationships in Mongolia.
Enfoque a la Familia Ecuador has empowered hundreds of Christians to reach out to couples around them with meaningful help and advice. The team created an online course for people who want to mentor and encourage marriages in their community. To date, participants from 16 different countries have completed the entire course.
The training is very thorough, and requires students to spend a total of 55 hours watching recorded video sessions, hearing directly from the instructor in webinars, and in workgroups with other learners.
“I enjoyed each class. In the Christian environment I feel more clarity and more secure tools to use when I am counseling, far from all tradition or religiosity. It is time to support and guide families with the word of God, to build foundations in their homes that allow them to enjoy this commitment of love.”
There is nothing else like this training available. Participants are joining because they want to help others, but then they are quickly recognizing their own blind spots and how they can strengthen their own marriages. It is giving Christians the tools they need in order to become salt and light to the world around them.