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Passing on the light

In North Macedonia, Christians are celebrating Christmas these days. But there is not only the grateful remembrance that Jesus came to this earth as the light of the world. There is also the encouragement to pass on the light and illuminate the darkness of these challenging times. 

“In North Macedonia, the word ‘crisis’ is so much a part of everyday language that there is hardly a day when you don’t hear this it,” says Martin Konev, Executive Director of Diakonia North Macedonia of the United Methodist Church. However, he adds that this is not a phenomenon of the last two or three years, but has been so practically since the country’s independence in 1991. Until now, the word ‘crisis’ has been associated mainly with a painful economic crisis – a situation that leads to an enormous migration of young and well-educated people, and which puts many people who remain in the country in existential distress. Recently, however, the clouds of a new crisis have been gathering on the horizon: energy crisis. Although there are numerous power plants in the country, their maintenance has been criminally neglected, which is why energy has to be bought from abroad. And because there is now talk of an energy shortage in many European countries as a result of the war in Ukraine, the power supply in North Macedonia is by no means guaranteed in the coming winter months.

This is not an easy situation for the “Miss Stone Center”, which, among other things, prepares and distributes warm meals to needy people in Strumica as well as in Radoviš. Thanks to the generous support of the Methodist relief organization UMCOR and of Connexio develop, the purchase of a generator for electricity production was made possible. Thanks to the enormous commitment of those responsible, this project was completed before the end of December 2022. The newly installed tank now not only stores several thousand liters of fuel with which the generator can be operated and the power supply for the kitchen can be ensured. The vehicles used to deliver the meals can now also be refueled much more cheaply than before. In this way, it is now possible to prevent more than 200 people from having nothing to eat, says Martin Konev. “The Miss Stone center in Strumica can now continue to be a light in the dark.” A place where love of neighbor becomes concrete. Staff members thanks to whom many people with sometimes harrowing life stories dare to hope and trust anew.

In her “Miss Stone Newsletter,” Christina Cekov also emphasizes the importance of this work: “The small kitchen at the Miss Stone Center does an almost unbelievable job: 230 hot meals are prepared there every day.” And there could be far more. “The waiting list is long and getting longer, but the capacity of the kitchen and also the available finances are completely exhausted,” writes Christina Cekov.

The “Miss Stone Center” also includes a Home Care Ministry, which, however, works under very difficult conditions, as there are hardly any medical professionals who can be recruited for this demanding work. In the medical field in particular, the migration – and also the targeted poaching – of trained specialists is particularly great. “The people entrusted to us know our difficult situation and are particularly grateful that they are nevertheless consistently well cared for,” says Christina Cekov.

Finally, the work of Diakonie North Macedonia also includes a varied educational program for Roma children and young people in Ohrid. On the one hand, this includes a summer school during the summer vacations to prepare the children for compulsory school. Throughout the year, this project then runs as extracurricular support for the children on the weekends. On the other hand, a counseling center for Roma girls and women is also operated – a “place for lectures, discussions, counseling, shelter, handicrafts and practical lessons.”

The way in which those responsible for the “Miss Stone Center” work to improve the living conditions of needy people despite adverse circumstances deserves the highest recognition. Filled with the “Light of the world”, they themselves become a light, sowing a seed of hope in people’s hearts and making them feel that they are valuable. 

Source: Martin Konev / Christina Cekov / Urs Schweizer