Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baba Lile and Monika

Even though riding on the train in the Balkans can be a very frustrating experience, I am also discovering it can be a source of unexpected encouragement and divine encounters.

Last Thursday my friends from America were visiting and I was having a very difficult morning, feeling very discouraged. John, Jenn, Ben and I were in the train going from Skopje to Veles, and I was sitting there feeling rather overwhelmed. There was an older woman, probably seventy years old, sitting in the compartment with us, and we struck up a conversation. She asked us what we were all doing here living in the Balkans, and I told her that we are working with different churches in Skopje, Belgrade and Thessaloniki. I expected the normal response from an older orthodox Macedonian, the suspicion that we are part of a cult. Imagine my astonishment when she began telling me about her relationship with God, and for the next thirty minutes or so proceeded to speak words of encouragement, life and wisdom over us. She told us, "You are all blessed, peaceful children of God. Everywhere that you go you will carry peace and freedom. You will fly with God. The presence of God that is in you will change your surroundings everywhere that you go. You have no reason to be afraid of anything, or to be discouraged." She went on in this fashion for a long while and as I translated for my friends I was laughing and looking over at them in astonishment, wondering where this woman came from. She is probably one in a thousand 70 year old Macedonian woman who has a personal relationship with God. The woman's name was Lile, and she said to me, "Please be praying for Baba (grandma) Lile." I assured her we would be praying for her.

The following week, I was once again in the train going from Skopje to Veles, this time with Sonja. It was Thursday, three days before at the prayer meeting I had asked God to give us divine appointments with people in Macedonia who need to hear about Him We were sitting in a compartment in the train with another young woman. When she asked us to tell her the time, Sonja took the opportunity to start a conversation with her. Having noticed that she had been crying Sonja asked her if something was wrong. She informed us that her mother had died unexpectedly three weeks before at a young age. She proceeded to tell us some of what had happened, and how she was feeling. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as I realized he had strategically placed us there at that moment in time, and had answered my prayer very directly. Sonja shared with Monika some about how God is not the one who took her mother, and then I was able to share my testimony of having experienced much death and seeing how God brings comfort. I told her that God's desire is to give her beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning, that he will bring the comfort that she needs. She cried as we spoke, and was very open to the things that we shared. We told her we would be praying for her, for which she was very grateful, and we parted ways, with the hope, at least on my part, of seeing one another again.

As I ponder these things a certain revelation sinks more deeply into my heart. My God is not a God who I have to fight with to give me blessing, or who reluctantly releases it if I pray hard enough. On the contrary, He looks for every possible opportunity to bless me. My God is for me, not against me, He longs to be gracious to me, He waits on high to have compassion on me. He brought me Baba Lile to remind me of this, and then Monika to remind me that through me He can extend this blessing to every single person whose path I cross, even sitting in the train.

Thanksgiving in Thessaloniki

This year for Thanksgiving my friend Sonja and I travelled down to Thessaloniki, Greece to spend a few days with our friends Amy and Jenn from America who live in Thessaloniki. We took the train, which almost without fail provides some kind of interesting experience. This time we had interesting conversations with two different women who sat in the same compartment as us. Then at the border when it came time to check passports I was reminded of how conspicuous I am as an American. The police come and collect all the passports, but then you must go to the station to retrieve them. They call out names, and people step forward to get the passport back. They were calling out Greek names and Macedonian names, then they got to mine and just yelled, "The American passport!". I had to laugh at how much I stick out.

We had a wonderful time in Thessaloniki hanging out with Jenn and Amy, relaxing and preparing for Thanksgiving meal. Their balcony overlooks the Aegean Sea, and you can see Mount Olympus (that's the mountain in the picture) when the air is clear. I enjoyed the peaceful surroundings

and company very much. The shepherd and his flock of sheep in the neighboring field, the forest in front of the kitchen window, the horse that lives nearby and loves it when you give him an apple.

Thanksgiving day we gathered at

Tommie's place, which is just around the corner from Jenn and Amy. It was certainly the most unique Thanksgiving celebration I have ever been a part of. There we were Americans, Greeks, Swedes and Macedonians all gathered in Greece in a Swedish home celebrating an American holiday. After the meal Tommie's neighbor who is a musician provided us with live entertainment, which was a wonderful way to end the evening.

The trip home on the train provided further intrigue. A young policeman who was working at the border noted where we were sitting on the train, and when he got on to ride for about half an hour he chose to sit with us. Come to find out he is single and looking for a wife. He proceeded to question us about our occupations, ages and other pertinent information. I think Sonja may have scared him off for us when she mentioned Jesus and he completely shied away from the topic. So we said goodbye to him at Miravci, and made the rest of the journey by ourselves.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Watch out Balkans! Here comes WIMM +2!

Who but God is capable of bringing a group of people from Virginia, Michigan, Florida and Tennessee, from a wide range of backgrounds together in the Balkan region of Europe with a united vision to see Him bring transformation to this region of the world? I have been marveling over this the past few days and my awe at God's works knows no bounds. It is so true that the steps of a man are established by the Lord, and the places that He takes us are amazing.

We are all from the same church in Christiansburg, Virginia, having graduated from the same internship program, each separately led by the Lord to the country that we are now living in. Amy, Jenn, Ben and Kim are in Thessaloniki, Greece, Danielle and John in Belgrade, Serbia, and myself in Skopje Macedonia. Our current name WIMM + 2 stands for Womens International Missions Movement since at the start we were just women. Now that two men have joined the ranks we temporarily added plus 2 on the end until we come up with a new name. So, we decided to meet together, to share vision of what God is doing in this region of the world, to encourage one another and enjoy the presence of Jesus. So for the past few days we were all here together in Skopje.

The first night as we were praying together, my heart just overflowed with gratefulness to God. For years I have dreamed of the day that I would be living and ministering overseas. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be sharing this calling with such a team of people as this to back me up. God is such a good father, and gives such good gifts. And He does not call a person without giving them everything that is necessary to walk out that calling.

These past few days we have spent hanging out and laughing, playing cards, cooking, eating, worshiping, praying, and just being together. God showed up in the way that He loves to do, speaking words of encouragement to each of us, through one another, blessing us with the sweetness of His presence. At the beginning I was feeling so empty and discouraged from the demands of ministry but by the end I was refilled with Jesus, encouraged to continue, with a sense that I am part of a team, that I am not alone, that we are in this together. I cannot express the comfort of knowing I have brothers like Ben and John nearby who remind me of how much God values me and of His protective presence over me, and of having sisters like Amy, Jenn, Kim and Danielle to listen to my struggles, to share the joys with and to encourage me and walk alongside me. I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of a family such as this.

With the presence of God in us, the resurrection power of Jesus at our disposal we are a group of people who I am confident are called to bring radical change and healing to the Balkan region. Watch out, here we come! Jesus is on the move!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Father and Family

The smell of supper wafting up the stairs. The sound of my brother stomping up the steps two at a time. Long talks with my sister when she really should have been studying and I should really have been sewing, but we each decided we just needed to share some sister time. Exploring the wonder of the outdoors together. Riding double and bareback with my brother on one of the horses to go visit the neighbors. Waking up to the sound of the woodstove door creaking, knowing that my dad is starting a fire and that by the time I get downstairs the stove will be radiating cozy heat. Dad reading "The Chronicles of Narnia" to us aloud as children in the evenings. My brother going with me to milk the cow when we got home late at night and I didn't feel like braving the dark field by myself. All six of us gathered around the supper table together, sharing about our day. Summer evenings sitting on the porch enjoying the peace and serenity. Walking and praying with my mom. The smell of mulled cider heating on the wood stove when we came in from sledding in the snow. A place of safety and comfort, where I know I am always accepted whether I have failed or succeeded. This is my home, this is my family.

I think back on all these experiences, how they shaped who I am, and revealed God's love to me. And one of the most beautiful things about my family is the times we get to share the closeness with others. We have someone over for dinner, and they feel the beauty of family and love, and so many times they speak of the comfort it brings to them. The warmth of the love reaches out and envelops other people, drawing them in. And now living across the ocean from my family I understand the truth of that. And as I ponder it all, revelation explodes in my heart about my God, my Father. He wants a family, He wants His children to know and experience what it means to be in a family. The family I grew up in is just a shadow of what He is wanting to create in His church. And I am watching Him do this here, gathering His children to Himself. He is creating a family here in the Balkans. He is drawing His children to His heart, calling them home, to a place of acceptance, safety and comfort. And as we begin to be drawn together as brothers and sisters, sharing our lives together, something is created in our midst that draws those around us who have not yet recognized the voice of their father. And they are feeling it, people disillusioned with life, at the end of their ropes, who looked for peace elsewhere and did not find it. The warmth draws them, they are amazed by the peace they feel in the midst of this family of people. And my heart rejoices as I watch it, the protective arms of my Father, sending forth the spirit of adoption, drawing His children to Himself, to the family they were created to be a part of, the family that Jesus died to give them a place in. It is incomparably beautiful to watch.
"But that He might gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. " John 11:52
"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father'" Romans 8:15
Let it be Father!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ajvar Making

Ajvar making is a traditional autumnal activity in Macedonia. It is a very work intensive process, so as a result has become an activity which the whole family participates in to make it manageable. Walking outdoors in the fall, the smell of roasting peppers pervades the air, one of the essentials for the creation of a truly Macedonian autumn. This year I got the privilege of experiencing it for the first time with my friend's family in Veles.

We started with 80 kilos of sweet red peppers, and about 25 kilos of eggplants. We washed them all then removed the middles and the seeds.

Next we roasted each pepper and eggplant on the woodstove, a very tedious, time consuming process.

After letting the roasted peppers and eggplants cool, we peeled each one by hand.

Finally, we put them all in a grinder, to grind them into a pulpy texture, then poured them in the big ajvar pan with some oil and salt. The pan stayed on the stove for several hours, during which we had to stir it almost constantly to keep it from sticking to the bottom.

So, we spent the whole day talking, drinking coffee, washing, roasting and peeling peppers together. We ended the day with a quintessential Macedonian meal of fresh ajvar, bread and sirenje (white cheese).

My Inheritance

I stand in awe watching the way God is moving. I took Him at His word when He promised me that what I ask for in faith I would receive. I began asking, talking to Him about what was happening in my life and in the lives of the people around me. I told Him about the hurt, the brokenness, the lack, the sadness that I see around me. I asked Him to bring change, to bring His kingdom to come here on earth, just like it is in heaven. I knew that He would be faithful to His promises, but I did not count on His extravagance. I found out that He was just waiting for me to ask, and when I did, He opened the floodgates of heaven, and poured out in answer more than I could ever have asked or imagined. He began moving in peoples lives, changing circumstances and bringing healing and restoration.

God doesn't answer my prayers half heartedly, He is a Kingly giver. He gives everything He possibly can, everything I could ever hope for and more. I can live a life full of joy, something that does not depend on the circumstances around me. As His daughter I have access to all the resources of heaven, a never ending supply of love, grace, healing, compassion, hope, joy and blessing. I don't just have enough, I have an abundance, so that I never have to live in lack. And from this, I can give to everyone around me without ever running out. I am loved completely, and because of this I can love others completely. I can give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Where there is pain, sickness and disease, I can release healing. Where there is sorrow I can release joy. Where there is depression and despair I can be a bearer of hope, because my Father has given royally to me, and now I can give royally to others. This is my inheritance.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reflections on a Rainy Day

I woke up this morning to a gray sky and slow, drenching rain. Off to Shutka I went, umbrella in hand. The kids were waiting outside the church door earlier than normal today, wearing their winter coats for the first time this year. The conversations and little interactions I have with the children is what makes it all so interesting. Today Bajram asked me with great drama, "Jenn moved to Greece didn't she?" I informed him this was indeed true. "It's warm in Greece!" was his response. The other children were gazing up at me, waiting eagerly for my response, as though as I held all the answers. I told them that Greece is indeed warmer, but that does not mean it is always warm. I could see the longing in their eyes for a place where they would not have to suffer from the cold.

I sat on the bench with a little girl on either side, one of them clutching me around the waist. Looking out at the rain I asked them jokingly if they thought God was crying today. One little boy quickly corrected me, "No, the Lord is crying." Bajram chimed in with great solemnity, "No, God is not crying. The way it works is that the water falls from clouds in the sky, and then when the sun comes out the water evaporates, and forms clouds again." . I praised him heartily, telling him I could see he had been going to school (something I do my best to encourage at every opportunity, since some of the children don't bother to go). This began a competition to see who could impress me with their educational accomplishments.
One boy puffed out his chest, looked over at me and announced, "I am in sixth grade!" . His declaration was followed by hoots of laughter and shouts of, "He's lying! He's in first grade with the little kids!" . I laughed, but was sad at the same time thinking of little Zunka sitting next to me in sullen silence, tears on her cheeks from when the big boys had been tormenting her with teasing. She is so little and helpless and sweet, and they tease her so badly.

Then conversation turned to our new friend from America, Sam. They were asking me about him, "Hey, what's that guys name?" "Is he from Germany?" Then one boy turns to the other, "I think he's Jesus!" (Sam has shoulder length hair, like the picture of Jesus on the church wall) "Yea, his hair is really awesome and long like Jesus'!" Sam quickly assured them he is not Jesus, but they still thought his hair was awesome.

Just as we started serving the food to the children the electricity went out. No electricity, no water. So, now there is a pile of dishes from about forty children sitting unwashed in the sink until the electricity comes back on. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Shutka.

Walking to my language class I got an unwelcome shower. The drainage system in Skopje is nearly non-existent. Every time a car goes by, huge waves of filthy water shower anyone standing within a six foot vicinity. Today I was victim. I chose to take the bus home because of the rain. To my chagrin, the bus was not much of an improvement over outdoors. There were so many holes in the roof I had to dodge the dirty drops of water. I considered the possibility of opening my umbrella, but decided that would just look too absurd. By the time I excited the bus to walk home I was so soaked I didn't care any more whether I got hit by another wave from a passing car, so I just quit paying attention. Oh well, it just makes a warm house and cup of tea that much more inviting. :-)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Prayer at the Lake

In August we set aside a weekend to go to Veles and camp near the lake with Glasnost from Skopje, and our church plant from Veles. We spent the time fellowshipping together, praying and worshiping. One afternoon we did a cookout.

Grisko hard at work at the grill as usual.

One evening we all gathered for a time of focused worship and prayer around the campfire. The Holy Spirit showed up and as we prayed and worshiped, and people shared what they were hearing God say I could feel the bonds of unity growing stronger, the darkness being pushed back.

Boshko, the young man from Gevgelija who recently got saved was baptized in the lake.

A bunch of us slept on the ground one night under the stars. The fresh air, and the clear sky were absolutely delightful.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finding Jesus in the Least of These

Stepping off the bus in Shutka I am greeted by a woman selling flowers and candles. She shoves them in front of me, hoping I will buy some. As I continue down the street I am met by familiar sights. The horse standing at it's post on the right side of the road. A coop full of chickens on one side, house on the other, garbage everywhere. I see a mother of one of the children in the preschool and we smile at each other. Ahead of me in the middle of the road is a group of people dancing. With typical gypsy music playing in the background the women are standing in the middle of the street dancing, swinging their hips. One of them is holding a hose that was apparently just used to spray off the now soaked section of the road on which they are dancing. Children stand on the sidelines grinning and shouting, watching the festivities. Maybe a baby was just born? I feel very conspicuous having to walk almost through the middle of the dancing to pass. Then I look over at the children and see a boy I know. A huge smile spreads across his face, and I smile back as I pass.

I round the corner past the house with the geese in the yard, and the horse and wagon always sitting at the corner with it's owner, waiting for something. A little further on some of the children sitting on their front porch see me walking past. They start yelling, "Betsa, Betsa (the name I have been given by the children in Shutka)!!" They come running out to meet me, hugging me with great enthusiasm, asking me what I am doing, so happy to see me. My heart is warmed that they know me, I feel a sense of beginning to belong.

At the church I help with preparations for lunch, making sandwiches, pouring drinks, setting up tables. Finally the crowd of children waiting outside the gate is let in. As soon as I go outside with them I am surrounded by children hanging on me, wanting to play games, or just be held close.
Oftentimes they are dirty, they smell bad, they are often rowdy, but this is one of my favorite places to be on earth. I love being where Jesus is, and I find His presence is so thick among the forgotten, the ones who are cast aside and looked down on. Jesus said that what we do unto the least of these is done unto him, and when I am with them I feel His presence, something I would not trade for anything.

A little friend of mine came one day covered in scrapes and cuts on his face and arms. He is about two years old, the second youngest of nine children. He was filthy, and it was evident that
no one had bothered to clean these cuts, which were rather serious. His sister informed us that the dog had attacked him. I took him in the kitchen, cleaned him off and put ointment on the cuts. As I was washing him off I looked down in his face. His little eyes looked up at mine, he wore a captivating smile, full of poignant emotion. I read in his face what his words could not tell me, a deep thirst for love and tender care, awe at experiencing a gentle touch. His face was full of desire for love, expressing a hope that this moment would never end, he looked as though he thought he was experiencing a bit of heaven.

It is because of moments like these that I can continue. Because of the realization that my touch and my example, along with the others at the church, may be the only picture these children will see of Jesus. And when His love lives inside of me, I cannot help but pour it out on the children who are so close to His heart, no matter how much garbage, dirt and noise is in the way.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Balkan Connect Conference

Mid June found us in Ohrid, Macedonia, named one of the top 30 places to visit in the world in 2010 by the New York times. We gathered from many different countries for a three day conference connecting churches in the Balkan region. There were people from Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Finland, Greece, Sweden, America, England, Portugal, Canada and New Zealand. We met to pray and worship together, and to build connections between the churches in the Balkans.

The balance of scheduled teaching time and fellowship time was perfect. When we worshipped, you could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. It was beautiful to listen to testimonies, and teachings and hear how God is moving, to get the bigger picture of His plan for this region and to see the vision He has placed in each individual. The last night we had a prayer time and took turns focusing on each Balkan country and praying over the people representing the church there.
The presence of the Holy Spirit was powerful, and as we prayed in unity for healing, for doors to be opened to the gospel, and for the Spirit of God to move, it was as if I could feel things shifting in the spiritual realm. I look forward to seeing the answers to the things we prayed for.

Equally wonderful was the time we spent building relationships with new friends and old. We spent time sitting at an ancient church together, worshiping and praying at night on a large boulder overlooking the lake.
We found respite from the intense heat by swimming in the lake, enjoying the incredible beauty of Ohrid. So many memories were built. Sitting on the dock at sunset, feet dangling over the clear water, talking about our purpose, and encouraging each other. Drinking coffee together in a little restaurant below some cliffs, with the blue water of Ohrid Lake at our feet, an almost ethereal setting.
Laughing and singing, praying, playing, talking late into the night, sharing our lives together, building friendships that will last for years. Through it I gained a bigger perspective of God's heart for the Balkans, and the relationships built will, I am sure, play an important role in what God does in the future. I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of what He is doing here during this season.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In honor of my father

I have been blessed with an earthly father whose example reveals to me the character of my heavenly father, and on this father's day I would like to publicly honor him for his role in my life.

From the time that I was born my dad has laid down his life in order to give me a foundation of training, character and opportunity that would enable me to fulfill the destiny that God had prepared for my life. He and my mom have sought God on how to raise my siblings and I and have spared nothing to equip us in every way they could.
When it required going against the flow of society, my dad did so unflinchingly, exemplifying for me a courage rooted in trust in his heavenly father. When God led him to leave his job and career, where he had much success by earthly standards, to spend more time pouring into his family, he did so, stepping out in faith that his heavenly father would provide. As I watched this I learned the reality of what it means to trust my heavenly father for provision through thick and thin. I learned that I have a God who is Jehoveh Jireh. We were never once left lacking. My father gave me a foundation of training and discipline, combined with example that I would not trade for anything. It prepared me to be able to submit to my heavenly father and to walk in the way which leads to life. His example of obeying God's calling no matter the cost prepared my heart so that when the day came I was able to make the choice to follow God's call to move overseas without flinching. When I think of my dad I think of the verse in Proverbs 24 "By wisdom a house is built and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is strong and a man of knowledge increases power."

I have so many fond memories of the times we spent together. I remember building a treehouse together in our backyard, and a swing on the tree next to it. In the summer time we would go to the pond and the creek and search for turtles and fish and salamanders. Sometimes we would take them home and give them names. I remember special family nights every Friday when we would do something altogether, putt putt golfing, playing games, building something. Every fall we went on a backpacking trip together into the wilderness. I remember my dad carrying his own 70 pound pack and my little two year old sister on top of it when she couldn't walk anymore. Then when I was 13 a lifelong dream for all of us was fulfilled when we moved to the farm. Because of my dad's knowledge and perseverance we built a house together as a family. I remember learning all kinds of construction terms from him I would certainly never know otherwise. Together we shoveled literally tons of gravel, poured concrete, laid logs and set windows. Then the animals came, chickens, sheep, cows, horses, ducks, goats. He bought the animals and supplies and gave us children the opportunity to learn responsibility caring for them, an experience which prepared me in so many ways for where I am now. In the winter when the neighbor's pond froze over we would go ice-skating after dark, taking lanterns to light the way. I remember walking down the snowy, moonlit road, ice-skates in hand, listening to the sound of coyotes howling, rejoicing in the time spent together. I will hold these precious memories in my heart forever.

After over twenty years of pouring into me and supporting me in preparations, my father released me to follow the call of God and move to Europe. He offered counsel through the decision making processes, and encouragement when I faced obstacles. I finally moved and then was faced with the necessity of an emergency trip back to America. Here I met with some serious financial obstacles. One night when I was overwhelmed with the seeming impossibility of what I saw in front of me, my father gave me a gift. On that gift he wrote, "To a most excellent daughter". In that gift I heard my heavenly father's voice, and saw his heart for me. In one moment I received deep revelation that my heavenly father has all of my needs taken care of, that he is pleased with me, and he will always be there for me. Thank you Dad, for exemplifying the character of our heavenly father to me. Thank you for all the wonderful memories. Thank you for being there for me, through thick and thin, when I messed up and when I succeeded. Thank you for being a man of wisdom and understanding, and for imparting those things to me. Thank you for being a picture to me of my heavenly father, and for being so willing to release me to walk in the destiny that he prepared for my life, even when it meant moving across the ocean. Thank you for your counsel and your prayers and words of encouragement. I love you very much, and am so blessed to have you as my father!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Riots, Garbage, Language, Sheep - A Glimpse of Life in Macedonia

Shortly after we returned to Macedonia from America there was a riot in Shutka. There was a street full of businesses that were being run illegally, not paying tax. The police and inspectors came in to shut them down, and a riot ensued. The people were throwing rocks and in the process seventeen policemen were injured. The following day we went to the church to help in the soup kitchen. It was strange seeing the once busy street with shops full of people shut down, and so quiet. As we neared the church there was a group of children standing in front of the gate. When they saw us coming, they began throwing rocks at us, apparently copying the example of their parents from the day before. This has happened three times, though thankfully we have not been injured, and I believe the worst of it is over. The thing that saddens me is that the children are just copying what they see. They so desperately need an example of something different. I pray that what they see and hear at the church will make a difference in their lives and will give them something to copy that will be of benefit to them.

Today as we walked toward the church we were overtaken by a group of children heading in the same direction. They insisted on taking us by a shortcut which turned out to be through a field of garbage, full of broken glass and ceramic, overgrown weeds, old shoes, and who knows what else. Two of them took Jenn a different way, which ended up being slower, so the girls with me were chanting, "Ние побрзо!" (we're faster!). For a couple of months now the church has had a second kitchen open in a poorer section of town. Friday was it's closing day, and so beginning with this week, we had a huge increase in numbers at the main kitchen. There are normally anywhere from 40 to 70. Monday there were over 100 and today over 90. We switched from the winter menu of soup to the summer menu of sandwiches and bananas. Today one child decided it would be fun to throw his banana peel across the room. Well, then others thought that was a fabulous idea, and peels started flying. Fortunately a few strict warnings and maybe a few kids getting escorted out nipped it in the bud. I was having visions of an all out banana peel fight with 90 children throwing banana peels around the room.

The resident dog, Spike, recently disappeared from inside the church compound. Shortly thereafter another dog appeared, apparently having been dumped over the fence by a passerby. The poor thing was not in good shape, and would lie listlessly in the corner, or under the desk that is randomly sitting in the yard. He finally gave up the fight and died last week.

There was a team visiting a couple weeks ago, and their presence brought a revelation about my language skills development that I'm glad for on one hand, and nervous about on the other. They all spoke English, and the local kitchen helpers that day only spoke Macedonian. The people who usually translate were not present, and one of the ladies was more confident of my language skills than I was, and she informed everyone that I knew Macedonian. So, I was pressed into service as translator, and was surprised at how much I knew. That was a huge step for me in language learning, but now I can't as effectively hide and not use it, which is somewhat uncomfortable, but good for me as well.

Walking home today I came across a man and two children with a middle sized lamb that had a rope tied around it's middle. The stout little shirtless boy was doing his best to push the lamb out of the luscious, green grass to wherever they wanted it to go, but it stubbornly refused. The man proceeded to grab it's wool and lift it to the path, but just as soon as he put it down, it found the grass again. I had to laugh, the boy reminded me so much of my brother and our days on the farm, only this was in the middle of the city, surrounded by apartment buildings. It's truly a different world here, but one I love very much.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back in America

We did arrive in America safely after our adventurous trip. I could tell we had arrived when I saw a sign at the airport advertising the airports chapel welcoming Jews, Muslims, Christians and those of any other faith. My senses were shocked upon hearing and understanding so many conversations around me, and hearing English spoken in an American accent as opposed to a Balkan one.

We had to accomplish two things during our visit to America. One was to go to New York City to the office of the Consulate General of the Republic of Macedonia at United Nations Plaza in order to get the infamous stamp placed on our paperwork. Secondly, we had to get our Criminal Record Searches re-done since the visa process had taken so long the original ones had already expired. We arrived in Virginia and left for New York City within a couple of days. Upon arriving at the Consulate General's office it took all of about ten minutes to get the stamp that was required, for which we had traveled all that way. The receptionist was apologetic about the fact that we had to travel so far to get it done. I wanted to laugh out loud and tell the story of what we had to go through to get there, but I refrained. The Criminal Record Search came in the mail with about a week and a half to spare.

Shortly before returning home I was having a recurrence of knee pain from the Lyme disease I was diagnosed with the week before I moved to Macedonia. I got to see my doctor in America, and was diagnosed with Lyme arthritis in my knees, and am being treated for it now. In the middle of my visit I started experiencing a number of other serious symptoms that sent me back to the doctor, who ordered an EKG, and some other testing, which all came out fine, so it was determined I was experiencing a side effect of the medication. Since then the symptoms have subsided and not bothered me any longer. The arthritis posed a challenge when I returned to Macedonia considering the fact that I walk an average of something like 3-5 miles a day just to get where I need to go. But just this past weekend the pain has begun to subside and make life easier. Please pray that my body will be completely healed of Lyme disease and anything associated and I will be free to live life here without these physical hindrances.

My family was all together for the first time in at least a year, and we enjoyed a canoe trip together, playing with the horses and doing a family photo shoot.
It worked out nicely that we all happened to be there to celebrate my mother's birthday, an unexpected pleasure. It was a blessing having my dad's help figuring out my taxes and other paperwork, and just getting to spend time with everyone.

God's provision for this unexpected trip was awesome to watch. I have a few monthly supporters but am mostly living by faith from month to month. When I heard I had to go home, it posed an opportunity to exercise even more faith. My financial situation was such that to purchase a plane ticket would drain my finances to the point where I would have almost nothing to live on when I returned to Macedonia. I prayed and stepped out in faith. Two people, unaware of my situation gave large donations at just this time that were enough to cover most of my travel expenses, and then other friends heard and blessed me. The result was that by the time I returned to Macedonia I had close to the same amount of money, if not more, to live off of than I had before I left. God has always been faithful. It amazes me, how from the biggest to the smallest things, he takes care of it all. So many times I have thought I didn't have money to take the bus when I needed to, or to buy food for the last week of the month. But then the next thing I know someone offers me a ride, or offers to pay for some food, and it's all taken care of. I have never yet been in lack of a necessity. I look back at God's faithfulness and wonder how I ever doubt Him.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

An Eventful Journey Part 2

About an hour and a half later the accident cleared and we started again, following a snow plow which created a safe path in front of us to drive on. For a while things went well, until the snowplow stopped, and we had to continue on our own. On we drove through the remote mountains on slippery, snow covered roads, in a vehicle with summer tires. We were praying almost non stop. And constantly in the back of our minds was the thought of that $1700 flight leaving at 6:55 in the morning for which we had no insurance. The road seemed to keep going forever. We hoped to find a taxi with better tires to take us to the border but it was nearly 2 in the morning, and the police man we met told us the chances of finding a taxi out at that time of night in this weather were very slim. We had no choice but to continue. He told us we were not far from the border.

Finally we came to another steep section of road and the car would go no further. We had only one option left. We were on a remote mountainside, in 6 or so inches of snow, it was still falling and it was about 3 in the morning. We got out of the car and started walking, dragging our luggage through the snow behind us, hoping that the border crossing was close. I was in no way prepared for walking in snowy weather, dragging luggage behind me. I had only decided to bring my coat with me at the last minute, not to mention that I wasn’t fully recovered from my sickness. Within a few minutes my feet were soaked, but on we trudged. I felt like I was walking in a dream. Several cars passed, and out of desperation we waved at them to stop. The first two or so passed, but then came a van that stopped, it was as if he had an appointment to pick us up. He had a large van, completely empty, with two extra seats up front, and when we explained our situation he was more than willing to take us the rest of the way to the border. Sashe and Marija said goodbye, and headed back to their car. We continued, in this van, with a complete stranger at 3 in the morning in the snow and cold. I could hardly believe this was really happening to me. I spoke with him in Macedonian at first, and he responded in Bulgarian. In this way it came across that he thought we were Macedonian. When I told him we were actually from America he said, "Oh, well I know English." I thought, "Yes, that would be extremely helpful at this moment." To fill up the silence as we drove, we questioned each other about our occupations, when he learned we are working with a protestant church there was a pause. Then he said, you know there are some people who go to these churches and they are crazy, they’re a little wrong in the head and they say all these !@#$ things. He asked if we were part of one of those churches, I laughed and told him no, but in retrospect, I think we may have been thinking of different things. Oh well, harmony remained between us at any rate.

We came to the border crossing, where the guard was asleep due to the lateness of the hour. Suddenly I realized how suspicious our situation looked and how much of a risk this man had taken to drive us across the border. Here were two American girls in this van at three in the morning with this Bulgarian man. Our Bulgarian friend didn’t want us to have to get out in the cold and snow, so he just took our passports and gave them to the border official, explaining our situation. The guard was unconvinced and wanted to hear our side of the story. He opened the door, looked at us, then back at our driver and asked, “So is this man your friend?”. The ludicrousness of our situation struck me as I pondered how to answer. If I said no, it would make the guard suspicious that we were being kidnapped, but if I said yes, well, I only met the guy ten minutes ago, didn't even know his name, and certainly had no way of proving he was my friend. So, we decided just to tell the guard exactly what happened. We said, “This man picked us up because we were walking along in the snow." The incredulous look on the man’s face was priceless, “You were walking along the road in this weather?” "Yes,", we responded innocently, "and there is a taxi driver waiting for us at the other side of the border, and we have to catch a flight at 6:55." The guard, unconvinced asked if we wanted to be with this guy and if we were sure there was a taxi waiting for us. Though I was grateful for his care to make sure that we were not being kidnapped, I really wanted to get going as fast as possible so I kept praying that he would decide just to let us through. We assured him everything was okay. Though he seemed to remain unconvinced, and shocked at the craziness of our situation, he let us through with a disgusted little shrug, and sarcastically invited us to come visit again.

Finally we made it to the other side, where our taxi driver was waiting. We shook hands and bade farewell to our new hero, whose name we are still ignorant of, and began a hasty departure to the airport. It was doubtful if we would arrive on time. Our taxi drivers did not speak English, and were Bulgarian. Thankfully my Macedonian was enough to communicate the essentials with them, namely the fact that our flight left at 6:55 (by this time it was four in the morning). We still had a good bit of driving in front of us, and they didn't seem to have much hope that we would make it on time.

On we went, over the snow covered mountain roads, careening around corners, passing a recent avalanche of snow that had come down the mountain. Meanwhile Jenn and I busted out laughing as the stress had let up a little and we realized the ridiculousness of our situation. After a couple hours of stressful driving, we were delivered to the airport at 6:05. We had fifty minutes to catch our international flight. A helpful check in lady got our luggage checked quickly, and told us we'd better run to get to security. We heeded her instructions, and got through security and to our gate just as it was boarding. If we had been about ten minutes later we would have missed our flight. With soaked feet, in utter exhaustion, we climbed on that plane and slept, so grateful that we did not miss our flight, and that we were not harmed in any way.

Looking back I marvel at the way God guided us through every moment. It all happened so fast I hardly knew what hit me, yet through it all, he was watching over our every step, and giving us favor. If I had known in advance what I would face that night, I'm not sure what I would have thought. But I learned a very important lesson in a way I will not soon forget. Living life on the front lines of ministry, on the edge as it were, of this battle taking place, there are moments when the protective presence of God is more important to take into consideration than the possible results of what may look like an unwise decision. I would not have chosen to take a ride from a stranger in a country where trafficking occurs. However, as we were loading our bags in that van, I learned something with an assurance that I don't think will leave me for the rest of my life. In my heart there was a deep peace, at the moment I was so stunned by everything that it didn't immediately strike me from whence that peace flowed, but I see it now. It is the reality that perfect safety for me is not found in situations free of danger, but rather, in the center of God's will for me. It is there that angels are sent to fight on my behalf, where God does the impossible, where he grants favor, and works so quickly and minutely on my behalf that my brain can hardly comprehend even the possibility of it. I am convinced that no matter what dangers I face in the future, I am perfectly safe in the center of His presence, and His will. I would not trade learning this lesson for anything.

I fully intend to walk in the footsteps of other children of God who have gone before me. I intend to go wherever I see Him leading me, and do whatever I see Him doing, regardless of the danger. I am convinced that under His wings is a place of refuge for me, that he is my protector, my deliverer, my provider and my safe place, no matter what is going on around me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

An Eventful Journey Part 1

I think it was an opportunity for God to show his ability to work on our behalf, but at the same time it was more of an adventure than we had bargained for. I woke up the morning of our departure day still sick, my body ached, I didn’t feel like eating and my throat was sore. We continued with plans, saying hurried good byes, and working on last minute details.

I was worn out and knew I would probably be up most of the night, so I lay down on the couch to take a nap. I was in a sort of half asleep state when suddenly the couch began to shake. I froze, thinking at first it was just my imagination, but the shaking continued, and there was definitely no one in the room but me. I sat up and looked around to discover that the light fixture on the ceiling was shaking as well. Apparently I had experienced an earthquake. Suddenly I didn’t feel so much like sleeping any more. So much for preparing for the long night ahead with a little bit of rest.

With only a few hours left until departure, we still had to purchase traveler’s insurance for our trip. I got on Skype and called the company we usually use in America only to discover that they do not offer insurance to residents of Europe coming to America to visit. We hurried to the center of Skopje in the cold, slushy weather and crazy traffic, and got to the travel agency only to discover that they could not offer us insurance because we are Americans traveling to our home country. So, I can’t get insurance from America because I live in Macedonia, and I can’t get it from Macedonia because I am an American citizen. I feel like I’m in no man’s land. We had no choice but to proceed with plans without insurance.

Ten P.M. came and Sashe and Marija (our pastor and his wife) appeared to drive us to the Bulgarian border where a taxi would meet us and take us to the airport in Sofia where our flight departed at 6:55 in the morning. We had plenty of extra time, but it was snowing, in the middle of March mind you, and showing no sign of stopping. And Sashe’s car had summer tires. At first it wasn’t that bad, the snow was wet, and it wasn’t sticking to the roads. But the further we went, the more it stuck. We stopped at a toll booth, and Sashe asked the worker how she was doing, and made a comment about the beauty of the snow, and the romantic atmosphere it created. The woman laughed, and handed us our change. We moved on only to discover that the woman had been distracted laughing at Sashe and had given us too much change. We stopped, and Marija went back to return the change. On we drove, the roads getting worse and worse. I fell asleep and next thing I knew I woke up to discover that we were swerving uncontrollably around the round, with other cars around us. We all started praying, and came to a safe stop just before hitting the car in front of us. But, just a couple of cars ahead there was an accident. The cars had collided and several people were injured. The road was blocked and we had to wait. While sitting there we quickly came to the realization that if we had not stopped and gone back to return the money to the lady at the toll booth, it would probably have been us in the middle of that accident.

Time was ticking away, and the snow was still falling. We contacted the taxi driver in hopes that he could come meet us at the other side of the accident because the police were saying it might be two hours before the roads were cleared and we could pass. Unfortunately, he had come in a four wheel drive instead of his usual Mercedes because of the snow, and did not have the necessary paper work for that vehicle to cross the border. He could only wait there, and we could only wait for the
accident to get cleared away. In the mean time, the snow continued falling.

Part II will follow...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From the Other Side

Quite unexpectedly I am getting to experience the other side of the picture from what I have in the past. Instead of being an American visiting Europe, I am about to be someone from Europe visiting America, and I am discovering that the difference between the two is greater than I would have imagined.
We hit a sudden problem with our visa application process and were informed that we needed to make a trip to America to appear in the embassy in person for the purpose of getting a stamp put on one of our pieces of paper. Furthermore, our application process took long enough that our criminal record searches expired, and we now have to reapply for them. So, after a week of exploring options, intense decision making, and faith stretching experiences, we bought plane tickets last evening and are preparing to leave for Bulgaria within the hour where we will take a flight back to Washington DC. We will be home for three and a half weeks.
From my human perspective it looks like this is the worst possible time for us to leave Macedonia, many things are coming to a crisis point here, and I don't want to leave the people that I care about. But I am choosing to trust that God has a plan and that He will take care of everything here while we are gone.
Please pray with us for several things; for favor everywhere we go, for financial provision, for health (I got sick the same day we bought the plane ticket and have not fully recovered), for God to order our steps everywhere we go.
If anyone would like me to come share at their home group, church etc. while I am home about what I am doing here, let me know, and I can try to make it work. Contact me by e-mail at .

Monday, March 8, 2010

Veles, Macedonia

It all started on my first trip to Macedonia in 2008. For a couple of days I was sent to a city about an hour from Skopje, known as Veles. We went from house to house meeting and praying with people. During those few days, and on my next trip to Macedonia the following Spring God planted in my heart a deep love for the people in this city. I was asked by the leaders to come back and help with the ladies in the young church there. This call of God was confirmed in many unmistakeable ways, and was a large part of my decision to move here.

The church in Veles is a plant of one of the churches I am a part of in Skopje. They are very young, the oldest member being 25 years of age. Most, if not all of them have gotten saved in the past few years. The majority of the church is men, but there are five girls. Magde is 20 years of age, married to Ane, one of the elders. Magde and Ane have 2 children and are expecting their 3rd. Daki is 23 or 24 I believe, married to Mace, another one of the elders, and they have one little boy. Brigita is 20, married to Ivica, with a little girl, and another one on the way. Pina (pictured above with me) is 25, married to Viktor. Milka is 22, and the story of how she met Jesus is an amazing testimony to how God pursues us with His love. God has given me a deep love for each of these girls, and they are a joy in my life. My desire during the time God has given me with them is to pour into them everything that God has poured into me in the past few years so that they can be equipped to then go and pour into the many new believers that will be coming into the church in the coming years. At the moment Jenn and I travel to Veles about once a week to meet with the girls. My hope is to raise my level of involvement once we finish dealing with the visa issue, and as my language skills continue to develop.

God is moving powerfully in Veles, and the surrounding regions, where there are several church plants in the works. The level of hunger and thirst for God is an inspiration to me. Coming from a background where most people have at least known of Jesus their whole lives, and take this knowledge for granted, it is refreshing to see the way these young people come to God with a fresh zeal for Him and His word. It challenges me in so many ways to stop and think about how much of what I believe is simply religious tradition and how much is really the pure truth of God's word. It has a way of stripping away everything but Jesus, which is beautiful in the end. I have always wanted to go to the hard places, the places where trite answers, formulas and opinions of man don't work, because that is where the raw truth of the gospel is revealed, where Jesus shows up in power and does miracles. This is one of those places, and Jesus is showing up and meeting us, and it is beautiful.

In the mean time, we are facing some serious attack. Daki, who I mentioned before had surgery to remove a tumor from her brain was in the end diagnosed as having cancer. She is currently awaiting treatment. Please pray with us for healing.

One of the biggest obstacles to me ministering in Veles is language, because so few of them know English there. Trying to work through an interpreter seriously inhibits my ability to build personal relationships. This is one of my biggest motivators in language learning. Please pray with me that God will give me grace to learn quickly, a super natural ability to understand, and finances for classes .

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Miracle Opportunities

I believe that obstacles in my life are opportunities for God to display His miracle working power. I also believe that it is critical that these obstacles be covered in prayer. Please join me in praying as we are currently facing a great number of serious obstacles.

Standing on the platform at the train station waiting for the train that would take my parents on their way back home to America I received a phone call. It was to inform me that the visa we have been applying for, which we believed we would be receiving here, was not working out the way we had expected. We have been told that we need to return to America and appear at the embassy in person to get a stamp put on one of our pieces of paper. This would not be as much of an issue if it were not for the fact that due to our financial situation, making this trip will require a miracle. Opportunity number one, either for provision of money, or favor with the government that will make a government official speak up on our behalf and let us get the necessary paperwork through the mail.

One of the situations I can't go into detail about, but suffice it to say that someone we work with here was recently diagnosed with a life threatening condition.

I have also been having recurring symptoms of previous health problems and am working on deciding where to go for medical care to get to the bottom of things. This poses further financial issues.

But in the middle of all this we see the beauty of God's provision, he keeps reminding me He hasn't forgotten my needs, and will provide everything we need when we need it, even if I can't always see it in advance. Furthermore, I have experienced a new growth of vision for God's purpose for my time here, which has given a new level of focus to everything I do, and helped me not miss home as much. And then my parents recent visit was a tremendous blessing. Please join me in praying and believing for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done. Please pray for wisdom for us, for healing, and for provision.

Monday, February 8, 2010

So Who am I Again, and What am I Doing Here?

I've been here in Macedonia almost three months now. At first homesickness wasn't an issue. I was so excited to be here, that I wasn't thinking too much about what I left behind. But I've been here long enough that the newness has worn off and I start to face the reality of the cost involved in this path I have chosen to travel. I am going to be very real about the struggles, and about the questions I am facing, because the answers God is giving me are very real as well, and maybe they can be an encouragement to others besides myself.

Last night I was at the Glasnost church service and they played a song that was often sung at the little church down the road from my home in Virginia. I almost cried when I heard it, for it sent a wave of memories rushing through my head. It reminded me of what I left behind. My mind and heart were flooded with images and memories. I thought of my family, and the wonderful times we shared together, of our beautiful country home, and the wonderful community of neighbors
surrounding us. I thought of quiet moments spent sitting by the creek enjoying the peace and beauty of the mountains I lived among. I thought of ice skating on the neighbor's pond, of snowball battles in the field, of horse back riding together, of working together on the farm. I miss it all. I miss my job, the creative outlet of sewing. I miss my church family, the dance team I was on, the twin babies I watched, the other children I worked with. The reality is that it hurts, this path is not without a cost.

And then I think of where I am now, of this path I have chosen to walk. On a daily basis I face very stretching experiences. I almost forget what it's like to be able to understand all the conversations going on around me, to be able to go shopping without wondering if I will get myself in an awkward situation because of my inability to communicate. I used to know how to cook, how to shop, how to get around. I felt like an adult. Suddenly, everything I used to know doesn't always apply and so many times I feel like a child again, always relying on someone else to teach me how things are done. It is humbling, and tiring all at once. Sometimes I think my brain will explode if I try to stuff one more Macedonian word inside it, or figure out how to form another sentence. One day maybe I will know which bus to catch where, and when to get off so as not to be late for an appointment, but that day has not come yet. And sometimes I stop and wonder, "Okay, so why did I choose this path? Why didn't I just stay where so many things were easier?" I don't mean to complain, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the many amazing friendships God has given me here that make it all so much easier. But just bear with me for a minute as I trace for you the very real path that I am walking and share with you the place of victory God has showed me in it.

This morning I was talking with God. I realized that Jesus walked this path before me. He left heaven to come down and become one of us. What I left behind is nothing compared to what He left. So I asked Jesus how He did it without becoming disheartened and sad. The words He spoke to me filled me with life and hope again. He told me that He fixed his eyes on unseen things, on the eternal, not the temporal. He came here with a mission, to rescue his bride so that she could go and live with Him in eternity. He had a purpose, and that is what He lived for, He was focusing on the joy set before Him, not what was in front of Him at the moment.

So I pause and think about who I really am, what my purpose is and where I am going. These are all things I have "known" all along, but now they become reality deep in my heart as they are tested. I am a daughter of God, and therefore a citizen of heaven, my citizenship does not lie with any country on the earth. I chose to walk this path because I am in love with Jesus, and I want to be where He is. The way He works, it is in losing my life that I will find it, and in dying that I will live. Sometimes I get tired of the mud and grime in Shutka, but then I remember that anything that I do to the least of these around me, I am doing to Jesus, the one I love. Sometimes the seeds I am sowing into people's lives don't look like they are bearing fruit. But I can stand on the promise that no word of the Lord goes forth without accomplishing the purpose for which it was sent. And when a new culture becomes tiring I remind myself that I was not made for any city here on earth, I am looking for a city whose builder and maker is God. This life is just a fleeting moment, here today and gone tomorrow. What will matter in the end is not so much where I lived, what I had or didn't have, but what I sowed into eternity. And through it all, I am just working along side Jesus, and in His presence is where I find fulness of joy, regardless of who else is with me. His love makes it all okay, and His grace is sufficient. I would not choose any other path.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Christmas in Shutka

January 6th, Christmas day here in Macedonia, found us headed to Shutka to help with their Christmas celebration. I have never experienced a Christmas celebration quite like this one.

We arrived at the church to a buzz of activity. A huge pot of hot chocolate was being prepared for the children amidst a hot debate over whether it had enough chocolate in it or not. The musicians were practicing. Questions were plenty, "Do you remember where the Christmas costumes are?", "Where is the list of children who are going to act in the pageant?", "How many cookies will each child get?". We were set to work practicing a simple puppet show and one puppet provided us with great amusement when its pants utterly refused to stay up. Piles of cookies were arranged on plates, and a system created for serving the children. We were well on our way to a Shutka Christmas celebration.

Gradually as time progressed the mob began to develop outside the door, a loud, active mass of children, pressing as close as they could get, eager to enjoy the festivities and find out whether today would be the long awaited day that the "packets" would be distributed. Through the door I could see them pressed so tightly together I thought they would crush the littlest ones in the middle whose dismayed faces made me want to pluck them out of the crowd. Finally the time came for them to be allowed in, and so gradually the seats were filled, and the room became something like mildly ordered chaos, with well over a hundred children brimming with excitement.

The program began and we presented the puppet show and some music. Then there was a flurry to dress the actors in their costumes as quickly as possible. The Christmas story was read, and the little actors were pushed forward at the proper time to represent the character they had been chosen for. Some had very shy expressions, but were excited to have been chosen to participate. They moved to their places, and dutifully stood in their positions, obviously pleased to be up at the front. The angels made everyone laugh by flapping their "wings" as they "flew" down the aisle. All this was punctuated with constant commands from the sidelines for the observing children to sit down and be quiet, in hopes of maintaining at least a small sense of order. The program closed with a song and dance, which caused great merriment among the children.

Next came the long awaited distribution of the Operation Christmas Child boxes. I have helped package these in America, and now here I was on the other side helping to distribute them. It's a little different than one might expect. The desire for a "packet" is great, and the number is limited, so it was a battle to maintain order during distribution. A guard was even posted at the door to prevent people from re-entering after they received one. It was a tense, chaotic atmosphere. Once the room cleared a little bit and there was some peace I did get to help a few little girls open their boxes. The expressions on their face were priceless as they pulled out dolls and clothes and other fun things.

The moments that I connect with individual children during times like these feel the most significant to me. One poor little child was having a rough day. She was crying and seemed tired and distraught. They kept shoving her into a little nook under the counter with a cookie and ordering her to be quiet. Finally I picked her up and held her a while. It's moments like these I love, to sow love and care into the lives of these little children.

After doing some clean up we cleared out and headed home. I left with a different perspective of so many things than I had arrived with that morning. The thought of the rough households so many of these children come from can be heartbreaking at times, and it is touching to see how they respond to the efforts made to reach out to them. Just a smile and a kind touch can light up their faces. I pray that through it all they will recognize the love of Jesus and choose to turn to Him.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Matka Canyon

My first Monday in Macedonia took me to a canyon known as Matka with two of my fellow outdoor loving friends, Alojz and Kiko, along with a friend of Alojz. Matka is a canyon near Skopje the beauty of which is positively breathtaking.

Our adventure started with a trek beside the river which led us to a restaurant by the lake nestled in among the cliffs. From there we began our ascent up the mountain. Up, and up we climbed. The higher we got, the more we had to be careful of our grip to prevent slipping down the steep sides of the mountain, or starting an avalanche with the loose rocks. Every so often we stopped to look below us. The higher we ascended, the more incredible the beauty. From one spot, the lake far below formed the shape of a heart. We climbed to an outcropping of rocks to get a different perspective of the view. The sights and sounds that met our eyes were more incredible than words can describe. Down below were the lake and the quaint restaurant. Towering above and to the side were cliffs of jagged rock. Across the canyon was an old monastery, perched on the edge of the canyon, far from civilization, conjuring images of a more peaceful bygone era. On our left in the distance was a majestic snow covered mountain range. To top off the beauty meeting our eyes, the peaceful, almost ethereal, chanting of the music from the monastery floated across the canyon to meet us.

We reached the top and a wonderful surprise greeted us. As we climbed across a hollow, and into a meadow, we found an enclosed garden. With all the wonder of children exploring a new and mysterious place we ducked through a hole in the fence and looked around us in awe. The view I just described had only magnified and broadened. There were inviting picnic tables surrounded by beautiful bushes, and old stone ruins. Tunnels of greenery invited exploration. I almost expected a hobbit to emerge, or to find one sitting reading a book, enjoying his fifth meal of the day. Towards the back of the garden was the little church.

We rested there in the garden for several hours before completing our adventure on the way back by getting lost on the side of the mountain in the dark. Eventually we found our way by bushwhacking down until we got to a road. The darkness
brought out a different type of beauty. The moon was out, and the silhouette it created of the jagged mountains was incredible.
It is on days like those that I am reminded of what an awesome Creator made me. As I looked around me, at all this beauty I felt as though His presence was saturating every part of it. The mountains shouted of His strength, the lake, and trees of His beauty, and the breeze seemed to wrap me in His loving arms. As I gazed on His creation I spoke with Him, my Creator my Father, my closest friend. He reminded me of how He had called me to this beautiful country, that He had planned these days and moments of my life from the very beginning of creation. He deepened my understanding of how great His love is for the people here. And looking out at the beauty and awesomeness of it all, I realized with a very deep surety, that there is no question that if the God who imagined and created all of these things has ordered my steps and is watching over me, then I have nothing to be afraid of. Just as my heart felt incapable of even comprehending the awesomeness of what was around me, so I realized that the goodness of my God is beyond finding out, his faithfulness towards me never ending, more than my human mind can fathom.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

She Makes me Smile

Across the hall from me lives a delightful little girl who is three years of age. Her name is Naomi. About one and a half years ago when I first came to Macedonia, I had the privilege of staying with her family during my three week visit, and then again a year later. I had a wonderful time with them, and enjoyed the three children very much. Never in my wildest imagination did I think that I would one day be living across the hall from them.
Before Naomi and her family knew that I had made the decision to move here, Naomi picked up the telephone one day and was pretending to talk with someone. Her mother asked her who, and Naomi said, "Remember that girl who stayed with us, I'm talking to her." Naomi was referring to me, and her mother quickly got the camera and taped Naomi's phone conversation with me. I am sharing the youtube video here. Naomi says, "Bethany you will come, and we will drink hot chocolate together. I love you, good bye." Though they didn't know it at the time, Naomi was right, that I would come and we would drink hot chocolate together, I have photographic evidence that it happened.

And here is the proof that what Naomi said came to pass. :-)

Sometimes the "little" things mean the most. I thank God for the joy children bring into my life.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday in Skopje

I plan on making a series of posts describing what each day of the week is typically like for us here in Macedonia. Since I am in Macedonia, I will do things their way and start the week off with Monday instead of Sunday.

We take Monday off to rest and get things done around the apartment. We do our grocery shopping, which is a very different experience than in America. You don’t take the car, get your groceries and drive home. You walk to the store, and carry home everything you buy. Our weekly grocery shopping includes a trip to the green market where we purchase fresh vegetables, fruit and eggs, which proves to be a wonderful cultural experience. Early on we decided to stick with buying our vegetables from the same two older women in order to build relationships with them. Dressed in quite typical garb for the older generation of Macedonian women; skirts, sweaters and headscarves, they greet us from behind their tables of fresh vegetables with broad smiles. They discovered that I am eager to learn Macedonian, and have been very patient and helpful teachers, pleased that I want to speak their language. I point to the tomatoes and show how many I want. My friend says the sentence slowly and clearly in Macedonian, and I repeat it to her, “Сакам две патлиџани, те молам.” She smiles with glee and congratulates me on my success. Maybe next time I will surprise her and use a whole sentence that she hasn’t taught me. And one day I will know enough to tell her why I am so drawn to her country, and why I want to learn her language, because I have felt the love that Jesus has for her country, for her people, and ultimately for her. Until that day, I am pleased to receive her gift of a few extra carrots and a hug and pray that my smile will speak to her what my words cannot.

In the evening we go to a prayer meeting with Glasnost church, the young people’s church we are a part of. This is one of my favorite parts of the week, walking across Skopje with friends, praying together for the city, for our church, and for God to move in the lives of the people around us. I love it when God shows up and meets with us. The best part is knowing without a doubt that God will answer every prayer that we pray, and therefore these times have the power to bring great change.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Urgent Prayer Request

I am sorry for the recent lack of posts. Over the holidays I have had more limited access to internet, and have not found the time to make blog posts. I have several in process at the moment which will tell more about what I am doing here. In the mean time, an urgent prayer request has come up. One of the things we do here is to go to Veles, a nearby city, on a weekly basis and spend time with the four women in the church there. One of them has recently been having problems with her head. We found out today that she has a tumor and they will be operating tomorrow to remove it. We don't know many more specifics at the moment. She has a small son who was recently in the hospital for other health problems. Please pray for Daki, and her husband Mace, and their son Martin.