By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
EDINBURG - When your faith journey leads you from Hawaii to living at a vineyard to volunteering at a shelter for Los Angeles' homeless youths, and those aren't even the most compelling stopping points along the way, you must have really done something. Larush Ramosaj has.
The Kosovo native has accomplished the no-small-feats of surviving, believing and converting in the face of a challenging upbringing. Will and Diane Elledge, who own Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery, opened their home to Ramosaj, 27, this summer as he searches for a two- or four-year college where he can pursue a degree in political science.
He had been in Kona, Hawaii, at the Youth With a Mission school, and a cousin of Will Elledge had sought a sponsor for him while he went college hunting.
Discussing his childhood in Kosovo and conversion from Islam to Christianity recently at his temporary summer home, Ramosaj said he wants to take the political science degree back to his country and advance the lives of youths who have long suffered from corruption and unethical behavior in their government. A diploma from an American university carries a lot of weight and puts you "on a pedestal" in Kosovo, where unemployment is about 60 percent, he said.
"So many students and youth, they dream to go out. They don't see any prospective or hope there," Ramosaj said. "There are some opportunities, but nothing to motivate you that if you finish school, a job will wait for you, or someone will value you. ... Being young and unemployed in Kosovo is the worst."
He arrived at his dream through Christianity, which he converted to after missionaries came to war-torn Kosovo, a traditional Muslim country.
"He had never heard of Jesus Christ before," Elledge said. "I find that just absolutely mind-boggling."
In a written account of his journey, Ramosaj said he had been searching for spiritual truth since he was 15 -- being from a Muslim country, he was not taught of the "one true God" -- and after war broke out in 1999, he and his family moved from town to town "in a perpetual effort to escape massacre."
"I vividly remember the feeling that something supernatural was protecting us," he wrote. "There must be a God out there somewhere I thought."
After the war, his mother and sister converted to Christianity, but Ramosaj was still struggling with Islam. Then, as he was walking in his hometown of Decan during Christmas 2000, he saw missionaries projecting a film about Jesus. Ramosaj said he was touched, received a Bible and read it. His mother invited him to a church service some time later, at which point he decided to convert.
"I embraced everything that was there. Everybody was Muslim," Ramosaj said recently. "The missionaries came and we were open for the world. ... Before the war, I had four walls and was in a cage. After war, I met black people for the first time, Americans. And we had Internet, and we could see, oh hey, the world is big."
Kona, on the advice of a friend, was to be his destination. Ramosaj survived a "grueling" interview process to gain a visa from the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Macedonia to attend the school and overcame a "big mountain" financially by borrowing money from friends to fly there. He arrived in September, and Elledge paid for his trip from Hawaii to Virginia.
Ramosaj was happy about getting off the island and being able to further his progress.
"I came to America to do great things," he said. "I know on the mainland ... there are more opportunities."
Last week, Ramosaj's left for his next stop -- with another one of Elledge's cousins who runs a mission for homeless youth in Los Angeles. Hope for Homeless Youth treats drug and alcohol addictions as a spiritual problem, its website states.
Elledge said Ramosaj will spend a couple of weeks there to learn about running a mission.
"They help hundreds and hundreds of people," Elledge said. "It's a beautiful story."
After his time is up there, Ramosaj will visit more of Elledge's family in Colorado before eventually coming back to Virginia and, it is hoped, starting as a college student. Lord Fairfax Community College and Liberty University are among the possibilities. Ramosaj will bank on his knowledge of the English language, acquired through primary school in Kosovo and from reading the Bible and interacting with missionaries, to help him through.
"I have been blessed with a God given talent and aptitude for the English language and I have been faithful to my gift," he wrote. "Kosovans have a great desire to learn the English language for economic freedom. My vision is for an X Muslim now Christian (me) to teach English to my native brothers and sisters whilst preaching, teaching and living the good news."
It's a faith journey heading for a great finish, Elledge said.
"I'm impressed with his dedication to making a positive impact on the world, and especially his country, and the faith that these things are going to happen ... the faith that he'll get back to his country some day and he'll make a difference in the welfare of the people," he said. "My cousin and Larush and I believe it's God's will he came here to learn things he can take back to Kosovo."