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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.



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.