When Bishop Heinrich Bolleter, then in charge of the United Methodist Church in Central and Southern Europe, conducted an opening ceremony of the "Miss Stone Center" in 2001, it marked the official beginning of a trail of blessings that has since run through the lives of many hundreds of men and women.
For 20 years, vehicles have been on the road as part of the "Meals on Wheels" program in the southeastern Macedonian town of Strumica, bringing a full hot meal to the elderly and needy five times a week. And for 20 years, the recipients of the meals have experienced: we are not left to ourselves. There are people in whose eyes our lives have value. Men and women who give us care, who live love - and who awaken a hope in us. Again and again.
The anniversary of the "Miss Stone Center" came at a difficult time. While other parts of Europe were struggling with floods in the summer, it was very hot in North Macedonia - and there were also major fires. Far more serious, however, were the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In one year, 25% of the recipients of "Meals on Wheels" died from Covid-19. This was due to Covid-19, but also to the consequences of the ailing healthcare system. For example, even the most seriously ill were no longer admitted to hospital, even though they did not have Covid-19. This also shows to some extent that Covid-19 is far from being the only potentially life-threatening reality for numerous people in North Macedonia. Since "Meals on Wheels" has a long waiting list, this development did not affect the scope of the project. Nevertheless, it is also a very stressful situation for the employees.
In Radovis, too, where the staff of the "Miss Stone Center" regularly offer a simple meal to the needy, the need is obvious: the number of people seeking help is increasing due to factory and store closures caused by the pandemic...
The Roma school and the counseling center for Roma girls in Ohrid, on the other hand, were confronted with completely different challenges: for example, there was a significantly increased need for individual counseling sessions among the young Roma girls as a result of the isolation during the pandemic and a sharp increase in domestic violence. The children at the Roma school, on the other hand, had to face a lot of discrimination in the past months, as they had no access to electronic devices or the Internet, and as the teachers at the mainstream school did not really care whether or not these Roma children were following the learning material. The project leader was therefore challenged over the summer to catch up on the learning material in order to give the Roma children a chance to catch up again after the opening of the mainstream school in September.
This is not the time for a lavish anniversary celebration of the "Miss Stone Center". But the leaders are grateful if you continue to support them in prayer and financially, so that they can continue to be a beacon of hope for many as they move into the future.
Source: Christina Cekov, Strumica / Urs Schweizer, Assistant to the Bishop, Zurich