Elona Prroj Shares Incredible Story of Forgiveness in Chapel

Elona Prroj

"When you leave this place, I want you to see the presence of God in the valleys of death," she said. Elona Prroj stood before DBU students in a recent chapel service still wearing the dust from her own valley 10 years after the murder of her husband in Albania.

Soon after Communism fell in Elona's home country in 1991, she became a Christian, married her husband Dritan, and the two planted and co-pastored a church, Word of Christ, in the city of Shkodër.

Although Albania had been freed from tyranny and economic crisis, societal panic and a free-fall of order set in quickly, including a return to a dormant historic honor code called Kanun law. The 500-year-old law mandates conduct, honor, and a practice called the blood feud – blood repaid with blood and a cycle of violence that virtually sees no end. A family who loses someone to murder could avenge that death with death from the offender's family. 

In 2005, Dritan's uncle had an argument with another man in a local restaurant and killed him. In that moment, 25 men in Dritan's family -- including himself and his then-four-year-old son -- faced mortal danger if they ever set foot outside of their home. The Prroj family went under house arrest for four years. Their church would come to them to meet.

The family fled to England but later returned hoping that the provision of safety for clergy in the Kanun law would protect them. 

Then it happened one Friday morning in 2010. Dritan made a stop at church before picking up his children from school, promising he'd be back home in time for lunch. He never did. He was shot eight times in the doorway of his own church by a man who had been waiting there for him.

The gunman was the 21-year-old brother of the man who Dritan's uncle had killed, which had set this whole cycle of blood in motion. With Dritan Prroj's death at 34, the cycle broke, but so did Elona's heart.

Their son Gabriel was about ten-years-old the day his father was murdered. That day, Elona retrieved him and his sister, Sarah, from school with a tearful embrace, taking them along to the Shkodër court of appeals. Elona was deeply afraid that her son would grow up carrying this moment into revenge himself. She said, carefully, to him, "That man, Mark, has killed your father. He will never have a second chance. What are you going to do with him?"

"Mom," Gabriel said, "Jesus told us to forgive our enemies."

Elona realized that the only enemy she had left to face at that moment was the bitterness in herself. "As a mother, I felt so hypocritical. If this child could forgive his dad's killer, who am I? That was the moment I made a covenant with God to forgive."

Fast forward to 10 years later: Elona Prroj is the founder and director of the No Blood Feud Yes to Life Foundation, now serves as Vice President of the Evangelical Alliance of Albania, and continues to lead as pastor of Word of Christ Church in Albania. 

Her encouragement to the DBU students gathered in chapel that day, listening to her story, was to understand what forgiveness is and what it isn't. Forgiveness, Elona discovered, is a decision rather than just a feeling. And it's not a one-time event like revenge.

"Mark got revenge in that one moment when he killed my husband," Elona said. "Forgiveness is a process that happens all your life. Every morning I wake up, I must decide to forgive. The perfect revenge would be that Mark comes to know Jesus."

She then prayed for the DBU students to see unforgiveness as the way she experienced it: a prison. "I pray for my brothers and sisters," she said, concluding a tense but riveting 20 minutes, "I pray they have the courage to face every hurt; everything that keeps them in the prison. Fix their eyes upon Jesus."

Written by Jordan Jarrett

Jordan Jarrett is a member of University Communications at Dallas Baptist University.