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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shutka

About an hour long journey by bus and foot from our apartment is an area of Skopje known as Shutka. It is home to the largest settlement of gypsies in the world. It is full of great poverty, spiritual darkness, dirt and garbage. It is not an attractive place from a physical perspective, but I know that the heart of God yearns over it. And God has imparted to our hearts some of the same perspective that makes Him love this place so. I believe that in going to the least of these, I get closer to Jesus than anywhere else. So, Tuesday and Friday mornings find us making the trek to the church in Shutka.



The church we attend has a church plant in Shutka. Part of their ministry is a soup kitchen for children that operates five days a week, feeding usually 50-70 children, with the capability of feeding up to 100. We try to arrive at around 11:00 to help Toni (the Macedonian pastor) and Chris (a missionary from California) who are usually preparing the soup, and supervising the gypsy children who have come to help with set up. We help with preparing bread and apples, and with set up. While we are waiting on the food to be ready we often get a chance to play with the children, a highlight of the day.



I love these children. Behind their dirty faces and sometimes rough behavior I see Jesus. I see character being shaped, destinies forming, and little hearts open to receive seeds that will grow and produce fruit of eternal worth. I love to hold them and let them teach me their games. I also take the opportunity to learn some of the language. They sometimes take advantage of this by telling me to say something and then laughing uproariously when I do. At least I can make them laugh.
:-)



When the soup is ready, the crowd of children waiting at the door are let in, and then ensues a time of loud singing followed by a prayer. We begin serving the soup, bread, juice and apples. Their faces are priceless, the little girls who smile shyly up at us, the boys with faces full of mischief, waiting to pull a prank on the new foreigners (we're catching on though). They eat eagerly, and around the room arms start to wave and requests are shouted, сакам леб (I want bread), сакам супа (I want soup), сакам сол (I want salt). In short order they have finished and begin filing out, leaving tables covered with a mess of soup, mushy napkins, half eaten apples and pieces of bread.

video

Some of the children stay to help clean up, and they are excellent workers. We wash dishes while they wipe tables and put them away, sweep and mop the floor. Fifty plus bowls, spoons and cups later, we dump the dirty dish water, and wrap things up. Leaving the church compound we pass Dusty the climbing cat and Spike the dog who deals with leftovers. We have been coming long enough that as we make the ten minute walk back to the bus stop, children often see us and call out hello, or follow us back, laughing and chatting. It is a good feeling to recognize faces, and be recognized. I often fall asleep on the bus on the way home. Shutka is an exhausting environment.



If you think of it, pray for us on Tuesdays and Fridays. We need wisdom to be able to interact with the children in a loving way, but at the same time enforce discipline to prevent being completely run over. Pray for open doors to sow into their hearts. And pray for our protection as we work in this place full of spiritual darkness.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Coming Home

Almost two and a half weeks ago, my plane landed in Thessaloniki, Greece, and friends drove us from there to Skopje, Macedonia. I had expected to feel that sense of being in a foreign country as we drove, but on the contrary, I felt like I was coming home. That sense has not left since then, and I am enjoying my new home immensely.


Jenn and I

Perhaps I should begin with introductions. I am living in Skopje, Macedonia with two room mates, Jennifer Collop and Biljana Petroska. Jenn completed the same internship program I did with Dwelling Place Christian Fellowship in Christiansburg, Virginia. We both heard God's call to move to Macedonia, and so we came together. Biljana is from Macedonia, and we met her on our first visit here in May of 2008. We are incredibly blessed to have her as our room mate. She is easing our transition by helping us Americans catch onto Macedonian ways. Lately she has been teaching us how to practice Macedonian hospitality, how to go grocery shopping, to be sure to walk to the door with guests when they leave, and other such useful information for foreigners. She also happens to be our language teacher. We live in a two bedroom apartment across the hall from our pastor, Sashe, and his wonderful family; Marija, Tamara, Luka and Naomi. They have welcomed us warmly. Marija informed us that Naomi, who is three years old, was counting her family on her fingers, "Daddy, Mommy, Tamara, Luka, Me, oh, I don't have two fingers for Bethany and Jennifer." God has provided for us beyond what I ever dreamed. We are surrounded by loving, caring people on every side.


Luka was seized with a desire to wash our dishes for us.


Tamara and Naomi.

For a country girl whose house in Virginia didn't even have a lock on the door there have been many adjustments to city life, but the grace God has given has made it all easier than I ever imagined it would be. We are learning our way around the city, and how to use the bus system. The lessons have not always been easy, but they stick with us better that way. We know how not to use bus # 5, after staying on it for about 30 minutes beyond the stop we should have gotten off at and confusing our poor bus driver. I learned that God has given me courage I never dreamed I would have to fight back when one of the many street dogs decided to make a lunge for my leg and bite me. I kicked that dog, and he ran away, having inflicted no damage to my leg. On the contrary, the experience gave me a certain confidence in the reality that God protects me even when I am physically alone. Things that used to intimidate me no longer do. This is the beauty of God's love chasing away fear.

A local shopkeeper eager to make friends with the Americans has given us numerous laughs. I went to buy water one day and he detained me, indicating he had something to tell me. In very broken English he managed to say that my face looked like a picture on the wall of a church, and that I look like Saint Maria. I had a hearty laugh over that one, but I wasn't sure whether to take this as a complement. Sashe and Marija later informed me that in this culture heavily influenced by the Orthodox church when someone wishes to pay a big complement they tell a person that they look like an icon from the church.


A view from our apartment.

These have been weeks of great joy; long awaited promises fulfilled, old friendships renewed and deepened, new ones made, soaking in the reality that I am finally living in what I have dreamed of and prepared for for so long. It is so worth all the prayers, tears, training, waiting, paperwork, perseverance, and downright hard work it took to get here. I feel that I am living in what I was created for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Puzzle is Solved

At long last the pieces of the puzzle have been placed together, and it all makes sense. I went back to the doctor on Monday to hear my test results and was given a diagnosis of Lyme disease. Thankfully in my case it is treatable, I have been put on a three week round of anti-biotics. I could have avoided much confusion if I had known what to look for from the start, because looking back I can be almost sure I know when I was infected. In hopes that I can help others avoid having to walk the road I did, I'm going to share a little more about the signs and symptoms as they appeared in my case.

Once I got over the initial shock of diagnosis and did some research about it, I was able to look back and piece together many things that happened in the past few months that I never understood. Back in the late Spring or early Summer I had gotten a bug bite on my foot that became red and swollen. It concerned me for a while but when it disappeared within a week or so I dismissed my worries. I never saw a tick on my foot, the deer ticks that carry the disease can be so small you never see them. If I had known that a rash around the site of the bite is often the initial indicator that you have picked up this disease I could have avoided a lot of confusion. In the next months I had many, many symptoms. Several of them only lasted for one or two weeks, and then disappeared, so I didn't pay much attention to most of them. I experienced jaw pain and stiffness, upset stomach, muscle twitching, flu like fatigue, rashes, loss of appetite, dizziness, and most notably joint pain. It was the joint pain that made me finally realize something was wrong.

As I look back I see the hand of God so clearly through it all. I am so thankful for my doctor, and that he had the wisdom to order the Lyme test, so that I was diagnosed before I move and while it was still in the early stages. I felt very strongly that God was going to bring resolution before I moved. I just find His sense of timing very amusing. The diagnosis was given exactly one week before my departure date. As one of our elders once said, "God is never late, but He sure misses a lot of opportunities to be early!" So many times in the middle of it all, I became so discouraged, feeling like this struggle would never be over. And God would remind me that I could just trust Him, He had it all taken care of. As usual, He has proven Himself completely faithful, and I look back wondering why I ever doubted. He is always faithful and He always will be, that is simply who He is.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Faces of Macedonia


Banica, Macedonia

Prosenikovo, Macedonia



At the park in Strumica, Macedonia

I Will Not Be Silent

In going to Macedonia, I have every intention of spreading the Kingdom of God, of sharing Jesus' love, and of ministering out of what I have been given to see others set free. Naturally, satan is not happy about this, and he has been making this clear by attacking me physically. I do not wish to focus on the attacks of the enemy, or to complain about my circumstances. However, part of my hope in starting this blog was to provide reading material that would serve to build people's faith and give them a vision for what is possible with God. I believe if I leave out the obstacles I have faced, it would steal from the eventual power of the testimony. On that note, I am sharing some more about the health struggles I am currently facing, with the firm belief that in the end the testimony of God's grace through it all will be a blessing to those who read, inspiring them to not give up no matter how much the enemy tries to stop them with fear.

After I returned from Macedonia in May I began having chest pain. After months of trying different options without complete success I ended up seeing an osteopathic doctor recommended by a friend in our church who is in medical school. On my first visit this doctor discovered that I had several ribs out of place which were causing irritation in my chest cavity. He was able to pop them back in place and I was on my way to recovery. Almost three months after the pain initially began I was finally pain free, and I thought that would be the end of my doctor's visits. This was not to be.

I began having pain in my knee. On the doctor's suggestion I took a break from dancing and long walks, hoping it would heal. It didn't. It got worse, spreading to the other knee, and eventually to my hands. At the climax I was experiencing pain in nearly every joint in my body. Then I began losing my appetite as well. I went to the doctor on Monday. He listened to my story and ordered blood tests to investigate, and I am currently waiting for the results. I will find out on Monday.

I have never, I repeat never faced any health problems of this nature, until I made the decision to move to Macedonia. Many times fear has threatened to overwhelm me, made me want to give up. The day that I bought my plane ticket was the day that my symptoms reached their climax. It was so obvious that satan was trying to intimidate me with fear. I sat down and spent some time with Jesus.

I realized it was time for me to make a declaration, to make it clear what my choice was. So, this is what I declared. I refuse to be silenced by fear and pain. I refuse to give up because of intimidation and discouragement. I refuse to give up the inheritance that Jesus has promised to me. I refuse to let circumstances dictate what my God is like, I believe that He is who He says He is no matter what my circumstances. I believe that He is my Healer, He is my portion, my Deliverer, my Provider, He is all that I need and more and in His presence is fulness of joy. What He has promised to me remains true. His faithfulness never fails. What He has called me to, He will make a way for. And that is my final decision. I will not be moved. If God is for me, who can stand against me?

About two days after this, the pain decreased to where there was only a little left in my knees. The pain is still there, but it does not rule me. And fear does not rule me. Jesus rules my heart, and His perfect love is drawing me to go with Him, and I am following. Yes, as children of God we have been given an inheritance, but it would be incorrect to believe that it just falls in our laps. It is something that must be fought for. Choices must be made, faith must be exercised. But I will say from the perspective of one in the middle of the battle, that it is totally worth every moment of fighting. Jesus' love makes everything okay.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Beginnings

My life is so exciting, as I believe a life lived seeking to know God always is. I have been called to live on the edge, in constant faith that, if I leap out into the unknown where God is calling me, He will be there to catch me. Right now the specific leap I am taking involves leaving everything I have ever known and moving to Macedonia. In hopes of keeping friends and family up to date, as well as providing a testimony to God's faithfulness, I have started this blog. I invite you to come with me on a journey into new territory, a new culture, new friends and new depths of God's character.
I have known from a young age that God was calling me to something out of the ordinary, that I would not live a "normal" life. As a girl I read many real life stories of people who God called to walk in the impossible. Stories from the lives of Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, Rolland and Heidi Baker, Bruchko, George Meuller, Oswald Chambers, Jennifer Miller Toledo and many others ignited a passion in me. This passion was fueled by learning through their testimonies the power of God's heart of compassion for the hurting and broken. As I read, and as I began to grow closer to God, He imparted to me a measure of this compassion. And once I let Him do this, there was no turning back for me. I had fallen in love with Jesus, and I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Him, going wherever He went, walking in the footsteps of faith left by previous generations. I had seen how the impossible becomes possible when walking in the power of God, and I was no longer satisfied to live in anything less than that. For many years I waited, and God strategically laid foundation stones in my life. And then the call came, and when I heard it, I answered, "Yes", without hesitation. And so, here I find myself embarking on the journey of a lifetime.