The nation of North Macedonia is located in Southeastern Europe in the Balkan Peninsula. Known simply as “Macedonia” until 2019, it gained its independence in 1991 with the breakup of Yugoslavia. It is a picturesque, landlocked country and its geography is characterized by a central valley bordered by two mountainous areas.
According to Joshua Project, nine of North Macedonia’s twenty-two people groups, representing an estimated 638,000 people (30.8% of North Macedonia’s total population), are considered unreached (which, according to Joshua Project’s definition, means there are “few evangelicals and few who identify as Christians” in the group — and that it has “little, if any, history of Christianity”). Four out of those nine unreached people groups are considered “Frontier Peoples” which means they have “0.1% or fewer Christian adherents of any kind.”
One of these Frontier Peoples are Macedonian Albanians, which represent approximately 25% of North Macedonia’s entire population and nearly 82% of North Macedonia’s unreached. The Macedonian Albanians dominate the northwestern part of the country.
The Romani – a chronically poor, oppressed, and unemployed people, most of whom subscribe to a blend of Islam and folk superstitions – are another prominent people group in North Macedonia.
Approximately 62% of the citizens of North Macedonia are members of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, but most Macedonians are nominal in their faith or completely non-religious. Approximately 36% of the population are Muslim.
Historically, North Macedonia has been one of the poorest regions of the former Yugoslavia, although recently there has been some improvement in economic outlook. Still, unemployment is high and the majority of the population experience a low standard of living. Because of this, many have moved to other parts of Europe, North America, and even New Zealand. This exodus includes many young and talented North Macedonians.
North Macedonia is also part of a region that has been contested by many powers throughout history and has often been immersed in the conflicts which have engulfed the Balkan Peninsula.
Poverty, unemployment, and war all can lead to a lack of hope, and hopelessness is no stranger to North Macedonian society. Abortion, drug abuse, suicide, and human trafficking are some of the evils which unfortunately fill the vacuum.
But in the words of Assemblies of God missionaries Tim and Elle Bentley, “Macedonian communities desperately need to experience the hope that is found in Christ alone. This can only happen if someone lives among them, explains the Gospel, and introduces these communities to an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why church planting is so important to us. Every Macedonian, deserves the opportunity to hear the Gospel message.”
Tim and Elle — in collaboration with the Evangelical Church of Macedonia — are following in the footsteps of Paul and the original apostolic band who planted the first churches in the greater region of Macedonia and led the first European believer (Lydia) to Christ (see Acts 16:6-15).
In July of 2018, the Evangelical Church of Macedonia renewed its commitment to plant 100 new churches in North Macedonia within the next 25 years. Tim and Elle are focused on helping with church plants in Aerodrom (a municipality in the capital city of Skopje with a population of 100,000), Bogdanci ( a village on the southern border of Macedonia with a population of 6,011), and Kriva Palenka (a village in northern Macedonia with a population of 14,100).
Through church planting, compassion ministries, building personal relationships, and the ministry of Kairos Center (a community center which serves coffee and holds classes in English, Spanish, guitar, knitting, and art for the students of Skopje), the Bentleys are working among the Macedonians, Albanian, and Romani peoples.
The success of church-planting efforts in North Macedonia is encouraging. While only 0.2% of Macedonians are currently evangelical, the evangelical church in North Macedonia is one of the fastest growing churches in Europe. It is encouraging that the evangelical church is growing in unity across denominational lines, has significant church-planting goals, and shares the gospel across ethnic and national boundaries.
Specifically, the church plants in Aerodrom and Bogdanci are each averaging 25+ people in attendance. Tim and Elle are now focusing on the church plant in Kriva Palenka.
How You Can Join The Bentleys’ Team in North Macedonia
If you’ve read our pillar articles (which can be reached through the tabs at the top of the site if you are using a desktop or the three-bar/”hamburger” menu if you are using a mobile device), you know that our conviction is that all believers should be part of a team seeking to reach the unreached. Some will go, some will pray, some will provide financial support, some will provide logistical support.
Here are four ways you can be a part of Tim and Elle’s team in the Balkans!
- You can pray for the people of North Macedonia, for the pastors and leaders of the evangelical church in North Macedonia, and for Tim and Elle and their ministry among the Macedonian, Albanian, and Romani peoples. To stay abreast of specific needs, sign up for their newsletter at their website. You can also request to join their private Facebook group.
- You can support their ministry financially. It takes $10,000 to plant each new church (this includes rent, set-up, printed materials equipment, and supplies). In addition, Tim and Elle depend on the monthly financial support of Christians to be able to live and work in North Macedonia. You can set up a recurring monthly gift or contribute a one-time gift at the Bentleys’ giving page. You can also support their ministry by purchasing their line of Balkans coffee and tea.
- Are you sensing a call to missions? Are you a missions leader in your church or the leader of a college ministry? Consider serving in North Macedonia alongside the Bentleys, either on a short-term trip or for a more extended period of time. Their website includes contact information so you can get in touch to find out more about serving the Lord in Macedonia.
- Are you a lead pastor of a church. Consider having Tim and Elle speak to your congregation, Sunday school class, women’s group, men’s group, small gathering, etc. about North Macedonia and their ministry. While they are currently in North Macedonia, consider having them speak to your folks via Zoom or other digital communications technology. And consider putting them on your roster of supported missionaries. Again, you can contact them through the information included on their website.