140 years ago, missionaries from the USA laid the cornerstone for Protestant work in the territory of what is now Macedonia. Former Macedonian freedom fighters, trying to pry their country loose from the Ottoman Empire, also contributed to this early work. Captured and sent to prison in Thessaloniki, their hearts were changed following the visits of US missionaries, and after being released, they returned home with a new mission: to spread the Gospel. However, the Methodist mission in Macedonia would never have developed so well without the faith and courage of «Bible women» who travelled to remote areas in spite of poor roads and the scorn, stone-throwing, and brutality of scoffers. These «Bible women» not only preached the Gospel; they taught other women to read and write (which meant that these women could now also read the Bible), organized sewing groups and nursing courses, and provided people with help and advice in all sorts of areas. In nearly every place where the Bible Women were active, there appeared not just local schools, but also congregations. Yet these newly founded congregations faced a high level of initial resistance, even though their members always worked for the good of the entire community. Some of their meeting-houses were burned, and in the beginning, those who converted to Christianity were often thrown into prison. But the congregations survived this treatment. They still exist today, and they are growing!
Meanwhile the Church is officially recognized by the Republic of Macedonia (even in the constitution!), but there are new challenges. The past years, with political unrest, war, and waves of refugees, have led to economic misery. Unemployment is around 40%, and many people live far below the poverty level. So far, there is no viable social safety net (welfare payments of 30 Euros/month for a family of four don't go very far). The expenses for groceries, firewood, and medicines are beyond the means of many people.
The congregations work with great dedication and faith to counter this need with words of hope and deeds of love. In several places they run, for example, evangelization programs and social efforts for Roma people. Institutional services and social support for individuals are equally important. Thus, with generous support from abroad, the UMC has built a social service center in Strumica, a city in the eastern part of the country. This center runs a «Meals on Wheels» program and provides 130 elderly, needy people with a warm meal each day and with additional support. In addition it also offers assistance for children and youth with special needs.
The very active and diverse dialogue with other Churches (Orthodox, Catholic) and religious communities (Jews, Muslims) is an important contribution towards a common, peaceful future of the country.
While Macedonia and Serbia are two politically independent States, the UMC in these countries still forms one Annual Conference with two districts.
Many people in Macedonia are facing poverty and desperation. The call to Paul in the Book of Apostles «Come here to Macedonia and help us!» is just as current now as it was 2,000 years ago.