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Across the Stone Bridge, Skopje
Macedonia is an interesting and attractive country. The economy is poor, with 35% unemployment. The vestiges of 500 years of Turkish occupation can be seen in the mosques that are prominent in most towns. Ethnic tensions are not far beneath the surface; 30% of the population is Albanian, mostly living near the north-west border, where smuggling is a frequent occurrence.
The Macedonian Orthodox church is part of the national heritage and in consequence many people are respectful of religion and readily accept that the Bible is the word of God. But in the Orthodox tradition people are not encouraged to read or think for themselves – and of course the former communist era of Tito did not encourage individual thought either, least of all about religion. The Macedonian Bible is another challenge, since the standard translation is biased towards Orthodox teaching. Another difficulty is that there are 77 books and in some, such as the Psalms, the numbering is different. In Macedonia, Bibles are an expensive item and not readily available in most homes. Even when people have one, they need a lot of help to find their way around it.
Nevertheless, after advertising "Exploring the Bible" in English, we held a successful campaign in Skopje in October 2005, with up to 23 visitors attending Bible talks. Since then, correspondence by a team of tutors has had mixed success. But when Roger and Celia Griffiths and Stephen and Carol Adams made a visit in April 2006, we were confident that Roger’s contact, Marko, was ready for baptism. A full interview by our two brothers confirmed his understanding and conviction. He was baptized in the very cold water of Lake Ohrid and afterwards received into fellowship by the UK visitors and Brother Lambe, who lives in Ohrid.
Since then further visits have taken place in May, September, October and November 2006. In October, Vesna was baptised in the river in Kicevo during a visit by Andrew and Barbara Tennant and Roger and Celia Griffiths. Kicevo is where Marko lives.
During all of our visits we have a good turn-out to talks and many useful one-to-one conversations with contacts. As elsewhere, we are faced with the challenge of trying to get people to actually read the Bible. When we are not meeting contacts and have any spare time, we distribute leaflets – and thousands have been given out. Blocks of flats with banks of letter-boxes on the ground floor help. Fly-billing in towns seemed to be well received too, with occasional conversations resulting and requests for literature.
There are always people who want to know about the Bible. One woman explained that, despite her Orthodox family background, she wanted to be able to think for herself. A good start, we felt! One family in Delcevo we have been in contact with for some time, are so excited whenever any of our team arrive! Despite both husband and wife being without permanent jobs, they lay on a wonderful lunch of local fare for us. We are impressed with their children’s polite and warm welcome and efforts to try out their English. Sometimes we find that phone calls to people who have not replied to letters or e-mails for months, produce a surprising result. One man in Strumica responded, “I’ve been waiting for this moment!” He told us with great enthusiasm of his belief in the return of Christ and the kingdom of God on earth. Since then, he and his family have been visited several times and his interest continues.
So we hope and pray, will the interest of others.
|"Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15)|