My family had been in Macedonia for about six months, and it was the eve of our first real ministry project, a weeklong children’s summer camp. We were nervous about how it would go.
We had come here with the hope of evangelizing Albanian Muslims who have migrated to Macedonia. My wife, Irida, is from Albania, and a healthy evangelical community has been there since communism ended in the early 1990s. However, it is crystal clear the culture in Macedonia is considerably different from Albania’s. Islam has a much firmer grip on the Albanian people in Macedonia.
To be Albanian is to be a Muslim is the mentality in Macedonia. We are asking a lot by calling people to go against this deeply ingrained social construct.
The fear of failure stirring inside
We had planned the camp as an “English camp” in hopes of drawing interest from parents who wanted their children to learn the language. However, we were up-front about teaching Bible stories and talking about Jesus.
In the weeks leading up to the camp, a team from Irida’s home church in Albania helped us pass out flyers around town. We also formed a colorful crew of workers to help with the camp: A Bible teacher from Albania, a missionary from the United Kingdom and two Australian Christian sisters with Macedonian heritage who were in town on vacation.
We had been blessed with lots of support from people who wanted the camp to succeed. But we had no idea if campers would show up. We prayed God would bless our efforts and laid everything in his hands.
When Monday morning rolled around, we made our way to the local park where we were hosting the camp and began to set up for the first day’s activities. The summer day was perfect, and the volunteers all arrived on time. We still didn’t know if any campers would show up, though.
A volunteer’s husband asked if we had the city’s permission to use the park and warned us the police might kick us out if we didn’t. We had already looked into this. We were sure we could use the park, but his pessimism was making us even more uncomfortable.
At 9:55 a.m., five minutes before the camp’s start, we still had no campers. I prayed silently, reminding myself no one ever shows up on time in this culture. When 10 a.m. arrived, and still no campers, my anxiety grew. But panic hadn’t set in.
It wasn’t until three minutes after the camp was scheduled to start and no campers had appeared that I began to worry. I didn’t say anything — none of us did — but we all felt the burden of anticipation and the fear of failure stirring inside us.
Most were surprised Christians were interested in them.
Suddenly, I saw a woman with two children approaching. She looked familiar, and I remembered seeing my wife give her a flyer in the marketplace a few days before. Yes! We had our first campers. I breathed a silent sigh of relief and greeted our new friends.
Over the next few minutes, other families arrived with their children. First our neighbors came, then the guidance counselor from our oldest son’s school, then another family we had met while distributing flyers. Before we knew it, a dozen children were playing games, singing worship songs and hearing the gospel message for the first time. God was, indeed, blessing our efforts.
Campers’ parents sat around a picnic table with us, enjoying friendly conversations and coffee while the children engaged in camp activities. Our spectacle also began to draw several onlookers. Neighborhood children asked if they could join in. The park groundskeeper came and gave his approval of our efforts. Several families passing by stopped to watch us. Many asked questions about who we were and what the camp was all about.
Between camp activities and conversations with the parents, we began to see a glimpse of the vision we had when we first arrived in Macedonia. Except for our two boys, every single child at the camp was from a Muslim family. None had ever heard stories about Jesus or knew much about Christianity. The families asked many questions, and most were surprised Christians were interested in them.
“I wish we could do this every week.”
Of course, not everyone was open to having their children come to a Christian summer camp. One woman who inquired about the camp during the week expressed concerns about the Bible stories.
“If you get rid of the Jesus stuff, then I’ll send my kids,” she said.
We politely explained we could not do that because these teachings were an integral part of the camp.
“Well, fine,” she replied, “but I can’t send my children. My in-laws would kill me if they heard their grandkids singing hallelujah songs at home.”
We were disappointed to hear that, but we expected pushback. By God’s providence, however, Irida had the opportunity to meet this woman again a few months later in a women’s book club, and the two became friends. They often discuss spiritual things, and the woman has become more open to the gospel.
I really want to learn more about Jesus and Christianity. I had never heard any of this before. I really liked it.
By the end of the week, we had made many new friends.
“I loved the camp,” one of the children said. “I wish we could do this every week. I can’t wait for next year.”
Another camper said, “I really want to learn more about Jesus and Christianity. I had never heard any of this before. I really liked it.”
We still see these children and their families regularly and pray for them often. The experience has given us a great model for future evangelism. We are hosting an English camp again this year and expect more children from the community to come. We’ve tried to make as many improvements as possible to maximize the camp’s impact.
Again, we will leave it in God’s hands, praying he will again bless our efforts.