Pieter Zwart has been coming to North Macedonia since about ten years. Every year, he goes there on a mission trip with the students from his full-time bible school, Foundation4Life. He works together with local Christians to spread love, the Gospel, and clothing, with the aim to also spread health care. They come and build community in places that nobody else wants to come.
North Macedonia is a country that is not often in the news. Most people, if they know it, know it as the place where the Holy Spirit sent Paul on his second journey, although that place is actually in Greece. Situated in Southeast Europe, it is a country with mixed ethnicities and religious systems. A quarter of Macedonia’s inhabitants are Albanian, and there also live a lot of gypsies. The country is religiously divided into orthodox Christians and Muslims. There are about 2500 born-again Christians in Macedonia.
Every April since 2012, Pieter and his Foundation4Life students have been going on a mission trip to North Macedonia. “We work together with Zoran [Spasovski], who pioneered several churches in the country.” During these mission trips, the students spread God’s love and joy through children’s programs on the streets, visiting elderly homes, street evangelisation and doing practical work. “Last year we went to four elderly homes, it is fantastic to tell the good news to people who won’t have much longer to live. Many times people pray for Jesus to come into their hearts with tears rolling down their cheeks”, Pieter tells.
Pieter came into contact with Zoran when he made an orientation trip to Macedonia about ten years ago. He explains why he keeps returning to Macedonia: “I prefer to go to the same place each time, because as a church you can be very busy with a group of outsiders, then the church is busier blessing the visitors than the other way around. When you have a longer relationship, and you know your way around, when you can manage yourself, then as a group you can focus a lot more on: “Okay, how can we build effectively on what is happening here?” And then you build respect and trust with each other.” Recently, Zoran has started coming to the Netherlands on a regular basis. “It is interesting to see that the blessing goes both ways.”
“We are entering a time in which we have to start building up projects and leave that as a heritage.”Zoran Spasovski
A building in Banitsa
Together with Zoran, Pieter is starting new projects in Macedonia. “A few years ago I talked to him and he said: ‘I believe that we are going into a new season, we have been planting a lot of churches and we have been investing a lot in people, but I believe that we are entering a time in which we have to start building up projects and leave that as a heritage, just physical buildings that we are putting down in Macedonia.’ So churches, elderly homes, things like that.”
This is the second project of that kind. “We bought a piece of land of about 2500 m2, exactly on the border of Banitsa and Strumica.” Many see Banitsa as a dangerous town, but, Pieter says: “Because you don’t have to enter the town, it is accessible for both the town and the city.” The plan is to build a church with a kitchen inside and a children’s playground in front of it. “The plan is that it becomes a kind of community center. That is the project that is going on now, the fences around it are built, and they hope that the building will be built within a year.” For the first time in centuries, there will be a church in Banitsa.
In the video below, Zoran, Pieter, and the Foundation4Life students are standing on the ground where the building will stand. Zoran explains more about the plans for the building, the village of Banitsa and how the gospel has changed the town:
When we preach the Gospel, it blesses the land.”Zoran Spasovski
Ten years ago, Banitsa was so dangerous that nobody went there. Even five years ago, somebody was stabbed and bled to death, because the ambulance refused to come. They said it was too dangerous. “But now, through the Gospel and the proclamation of the kingdom, the whole area is transforming.” Zoran explains in the video: “When we preach the Gospel, it blesses the land. When salvation starts to happen, the kingdom then expands.”
Financial support and clothing distribution
A few years ago, Pieter brought the chairs of the board of Foundation4Life with them on a mission trip to Macedonia. “They were so captivated by what was happening there, and they have a thrift store. It’s called ‘Habbekrats’, in Culemborg. And they thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could connect Habbekrats to the work of the school and to the projects in Macedonia?’ So now, Habbekrats is part of Foundation4Life and the profits from the thrift store go partly to the school and partly to the projects in Macedonia.”
Besides financial support, the thrift store selects clothing to bring to Macedonia. The first transport happened last April, where they distributed clothing in Banitsa and Shutka, a large gypsy neighborhood in Skopje. “It is really complicated to go that way with a clothing transport, so we are still searching for a good connection, a transporter who is there regularly, who could bring stuff for us.”
It is not grabbing to get as much cheap clothes as possible, but that you take time for the person that is coming there, just to add a piece of value to that person.”Pieter Zwart
The plan is to build kind of a second hand clothing shop next to the church in both Banitsa and Shutka. “The intention is to let the people make an appointment.” Pieter explains why: “We don’t want people to grab as much cheap clothes as possible, rather we want to take time for the person that is coming, just to show that we value that person: ‘Hey, you are worth it that we invest time in you so you receive that clothing.’ It is supposed to become a place where people are seen and where they experience that.”
In the future, the transports might contain more than just clothing. “I can imagine that a transport of beds will go that way. We said to Zoran: ‘Tell us what you need, and we will try to realise that.’ So those transports, it could be anything in the future.”
The aim for a medical outreach
In addition to the transports, there is the aim to organize a medical outreach in Banitsa. “When the building is there, we want to do a try-out in April, where we will bring a dentist and a doctor.” People will be able to get basic dental care, walk past a doctor, receive medication, receive prayer, and people will explain them the gospel. “Most people in that village have never seen a dentist or a doctor.”
The building is essential for this project: “When you don’t have a building there, it becomes chaos.” Pieter explains how they did the first transport and distribution last April: “We handed out clothing straight from the truck, but then everybody wanted to go get clothing first and it became kind of survival of the fittest. It is not a very practical and safe way to be working there. But because we will have our own building, we will be able to regulate it more.”
As Zoran says: “I actually don’t need anything. But Banitsa needs the grace of God to enable people to come and to invest and to start this whole thing.” So if you want to support these projects in Macedonia, that is possible in several ways. You can support them financially here, under mention of ‘Building Banitsa’. Do you live in or near Culemborg? The thrift store is still looking for more volunteers, so they can be open more often. If you are between 16 and 22 years old and want to see the project in Banitsa, apply for Foundation4Life where they will go to Macedonia in April. If you want to meet Zoran, he will be speaking on the Foundation4Life conference next November.