Our next-door neighbor Mira is 9 years old. We made friends with her family when we moved to North Macedonia 18 months ago. She enjoys playing with our two boys and often comes to events we organize in the community. In June, Mira came to our summer camp and gave us a story we will not soon forget.
Mira’s family are ethnic Albanians and they, like almost all Albanians from Macedonia, are Muslim. Islam has been an important part of the Albanian identity in Macedonia because it sets them apart from the Macedonians and Serbians, who are predominately Eastern Orthodox Christians. The history of conflict and war in the region has created a tremendous barrier for the gospel among Albanians in Macedonia.
The summer camps were designed to reach Muslim families. We promoted them as English camps, but we were also upfront that we would be teaching Bible lessons. Parents signed permission slips and were encouraged to stay and participate in the activities. Each day was full of fun and games, as well as songs and stories from the Bible.
On the third day of the camp, we were preparing to play a game. One of the camp leaders would tape pieces of candy all over their clothing, and the campers would chase them to get the candy. When my wife told me that I was going to be designated as the “human piñata,” I jokingly make the sign of the cross with my fingers, which drew a bit of laughter from some of the co-workers.
Mira, however, did not think the joke was funny. “Don’t do that!” she exclaimed. “The cross is shameful. That’s for Christians.”
I calmly replied to her, “That’s OK, Mira. I’m not ashamed of the cross. I am a Christian.”
She quickly replied, “No, you’re not one of those kinds of people. Don’t say that about yourself. I like you. You’re not one of them.”
My wife was standing nearby and overheard the conversation and added, “It’s OK, Mira. We are Christians. In fact, everyone on the camp staff is a Christian, and all the stories you have been hearing from us are Christian stories from the Bible.”
“Really?” said Mira with a stunned expression on her face. “No way! I still can’t believe you are like that. The cross is bad. It’s shameful.”
I quietly prayed that the Lord would break down the barriers between Mira and the gospel message.
The last day of the camp had the week’s most direct and clear gospel presentation. A Christian teacher from Albania told the story of the crucifixion in Mira’s heart language. It was a rather powerful and dramatic telling, complete with a call to faith in Jesus at the end. The initial response from the children was more shock than acceptance. It was clear some of the children, especially the older ones, were really wrestling with the message they had heard and its implications.
After the story, we offered the children copies of the New Testament in their language, as well as other Christian children’s books. Mira came forward and began to grab copies of each book we had. She took a children’s Bible with illustrations in it and quickly began to page through it.
When she came to the book’s depiction of Jesus on the cross, she yelled out, “This was in the story today! That is Jesus on the cross for our sins!”
Mira smiled as she looked up at us. “I really liked that story,” she said. “Now I know that the cross isn’t shameful.”
You can help move a culture from a shameful view of the cross to one of hope by partnering with the Macedonian Albania Mission. As part of the Great Sea Initiative, the mission focuses on bringing the gospel to a people group of 500,000 that has no known church.
Check out the September issue of Point magazine to read more about how Andy and Irida Morisseau are sharing Jesus with Muslims through children’s summer camps.
Andy Morisseau, Converge global worker, Macedonia
Andy and Irida Morisseau are Converge global workers in Macedonia.