Missionaries Face Challenges in Sharing the Gospel in the Balkans

The city center in Skopje, North Macedonia. IMB photo

Before she met Jesus, Gryta* had a very low self-esteem. Her past includes abuse, neglect and health issues. A few years ago, she met Amy Williams, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary, at an ESL class. Amy befriended Gryta and told her about the boundless love of the Savior. Gryta then went to a Bible study where she received more kindness and acceptance from other Christian women. But her patterns of destructive behavior continued.

Gryta lives in Macedonia, officially the Republic of North Macedonia. It is one of the 10 countries that compose an area of Europe known as the Balkans. Missionaries Kyle and Jackie Kirkpatrick work in the Balkans and also know Gryta. In 2019, Amy and the Kirkpatricks saw a change in Gryta, who was facing another health crisis. Gryta asked God for healing, yet when she didn’t immediately experience her desired results, she continued to praise God. She declared His faithfulness to other patients, doctors and visitors to her medical ward. Through her witness, Gryta’s father chose to follow Jesus.

“Her testimony was that even though her health was still weak — and Macedonians believe that physical health is all-important — God had changed her heart through Jesus,” Kyle said. “[Gryta] began to put action to the words of faith that she had been hearing for years.”

Gryta’s story is one example of God’s life-changing power and eternal salvation in the lives of people who live in the Balkans. This part of southern Europe generally includes the countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.

Religious challenges

In this region, Eastern Orthodoxy is a dominant religion. It teaches that if you are in right relationship with the religious system, you are right with God. For those who practice Eastern Orthodoxy, “faith [is] defined as relying on the church’s teachings and participating in its liturgy and sacraments,” writes Preston Pearce, IMB’s theological education strategist for Eurasia. He says it also invites followers of this belief system to be more superstitious.

Preston continues: “Orthodox people today are caught between two cultural currents: their ancient, transcendent and pervasive Orthodox worldview, and the torrent of influence (good and bad) coming from the West. Unfortunately, they sometimes link the Gospel to all the West offers — freedom, prosperity, questioning of authority and declining morality and religion.”

While Eastern Orthodoxy may be the most prevalent belief system here, the Balkans are also home to many followers of Roman Catholicism and Islam. More than half of the populations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo officially claim Islam. Christian workers in traditionally Muslim areas report that many evangelical churches are small and believers face opposition from family members and friends who culturally cling to Islam and resist new faith ideas.

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Source: Baptist Press