How Macedonia changed my life (for the better!)

Today is May 25, 2022, and today, I celebrate 26 years with Macedonia.

That is over a quarter of a century. If the average life expectancy of an American male is 77 years (and we men die younger than women), then I have spent one third of my life (so far) in and with Macedonia. If I can manage to hang on another 25 or 26 years, well, then, most of my life will have been spent in and with Macedonia.

A short story: last month I was invited to a brunch for a private Christian school that I make regular financial donations to throughout the year. Two of my nieces and my nephew graduated from high school there but I still contribute because it is a fine school and I want to see children who attend grow into young men and young women with an excellent education and good Christian upbringing.

I chose a table at random and started a discussion with the elderly couple next to me. Naturally, in the course of our conversation I mentioned my relationship with Macedonia. And the next thing you know the gentleman is telling me “Macedonia, yes, I have been there several times!” After a little more talk I find out he has been to Kavadarci as he worked (he’s retired now) in the metals industry. About 30 minutes later and the principal of the school is giving his remarks. And in the middle of his remarks, what does he say? You should not be surprised. He said, “I think of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8 when describing the believers in Macedonia who gave so wonderfully to support the work of God.” He compared us, as donors, to the Macedonian churches that the Apostle Paul wrote about: “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”

Think about it: in the middle of the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona on a beautiful cool day in April, I sit down at an outdoor brunch and am confronted with Macedonia. Everywhere I go, there’s always something to remind me of Macedonia.

Today, I reflect on a flight I took from Zagreb to Skopje on May 25, 1996. I had been in Croatia for a week, on business, and had previously been offered an opportunity to come to Macedonia and work with a humanitarian organization, Mercy Corps, working from their new office in Skopje, but working primarily in Kosovo, but for a limited three-month gig. I had been living and working in Washington, DC for seven years at that point and I thought to myself, why not take a leave of absence, go to Macedonia, spend three months living and working and having some fun, and then return to Washington, DC to continue my illustrious career working up the proverbial political ladder.

So, I came to Macedonia that May 25, 1996, on a three-day visit to see if I liked the country and would return later that summer for my three-month gig. I liked it well enough, so I came back in July to start my three-month gig, fully expecting to return to Washington, DC after three months. But I did not.

People often ask “why?” And I have a perfectly simple and honest response: because the Macedonians opened their hearts and homes to me, a stranger, and welcomed me in. I often ask myself, “What if I had gone back to Washington, DC after three months and continued on my ‘illustrious’ career up the proverbial political ladder?” I shudder to think, knowing what I know about the aptly labeled swamp. It likely would not have ended well.

How has Macedonia changed my life (and for the better!)? That would take a book-length response (which I am leaning toward) but for purposes of this column, let me simply state that my time in and with Macedonia and Macedonians has given me a deeper, fuller, and more meaningful understanding of and appreciation for love, joy, peace, forbearance, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I’ll stop here and simply express my gratitude to Macedonia, the country, but more specifically to Macedonians — those who have become like family to me, those who I count as true friends, those I have merely interacted with, ever so briefly on this journey of mine, and yes, those who I have never met but have had an impact on me, one way or another. Because it is gratitude, the act of actively thinking about and dwelling on what you are grateful for in life, that is so necessary to a life well lived.

British author and intellectual Douglas Murray, in his latest book, includes a short “interlude” as he calls it on gratitude. He closes that section by writing “…a life lived without gratitude is not a life properly lived.” He quotes his late friend, the English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton who, writing shortly before his death in January of 2020, noted “Coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude.”

For me, I choose to live my life with gratitude, and daily, gratitude for Macedonia and my Macedonian family and friends.

Tomorrow, on May 26, 2022, I will begin my 27th year with Macedonia.

I’m looking forward to it. And I am grateful.

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Jason Miko

Jason Miko

Proud American & Arizonan w/Hungarian ethnicity & passion for Macedonia, Hungary & Estonia. Traveler, PR man, history buff & wine, craft beer & cigar enthusiast