In the late summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Macedonia with my youth group. I was 18 years old and already had one out of country mission trip under my belt, but had never been this far from home. I was so excited about this trip - the full two days of travel to get there, the food, the fellowship and more!
We began our journey at Denver International Airport, flew non-stop to London, hopped on a short flight to Vienna and called it a night. However, the night didn't end until part of our group overcame the status of being "missing" - the taxi driver they had used didn't know a drop of English (which most of us were relying on at this point). Luckily, a girl in the car knew just enough German to help the driver find the right hotel.
Day two commenced with a flight from Vienna to Ljubljana. When we landed, I remember finding it strange how few people were roaming the airport in this capital of Slovenia. No matter, the scenery outside was breathtaking. A low layer of fog covered the rolling green hills surrounding the airport. We soon said goodbye and hopped on a tiny jet that took us straight to Skopje - the capital of Macedonia.
By this point, exhaustion was prevalent. A wave of heat welcomed us as we got on a bus with no air conditioning. The ride was 2 hours, and it was over 90 degrees outside. Needless to say, some of us were ready to pass out by the time we arrived in Kratavo. This town (which was the size of a large neighborhood) is where we would be spending the next week. The boys in our group stayed at an old apartment complex where springs poked out of the mattresses, while us girls got to stay with a wonderful woman who welcomed us into her cozy home. Each day in Kratavo, we would walk around the entire town, about 3-4 miles a day. We would get to know the locals, and help an established missionary build relationships and a youth program. It was definitely not a typical mission trip - purely educational and relational with no heavy lifting. We spent our mornings and afternoons as a team, enjoying the food and history that Kratavo had to offer. After dark was when the town really lit up. Every teen and young adult would come out after dinner, and the town seemingly would double in size. There was so much life, but also a feeling of darkness. So many of these people were either struggling with depression or had lost someone close to suicide. Our mission was suddenly clear - we were there to love on those that were hurting and provide as much support as we could, all the while directing them towards the One who loves us most - God.
After our week in Kratovo, it was time to give tearful goodbyes to the friends we had made and move on to our next stop - Tetovo. We spent a week here, doing what we did in Kratovo - building and maintaining relationships that a permanent missionary would uphold. However, it seemed most of our time was spent touring the city, hearing gunshots, and waking up in the middle of the night to the "call to prayer". Memorable, none the less. Next up, Ohrid.
Once we arrived, the stunning view of the massive Lake Ohrid captured our souls. The final week of our trip was obviously meant to be a vacation. The first order of business was heading straight to the beach! We were pleased to look at the lake from above and see straight down to the bottom. What other lakes can you do that at? With Ohrid being rich in history, we also enjoyed seeing an old church and fortress. We only got to spend 3 short days here, however, the vacation wasn't over yet.
The fourth and final part of our trip took place in Vienna. We spent two days splitting up into pairs and seeing whatever tickled our fancy. Cafe Central, a four-story Forever 21, Hofburg and St. Stephan's Cathedral were all a part of my journey. For some of us, this was the most freedom we had experienced up to this point. Shoutout to my amazing youth pastor for letting us run wild!
Three weeks following our initial departure from Denver, we were all ready to head home. Two flights later, and we were there. Welcomed by my family, I had a warm sense of a job well done. A mission accomplished. Why? I hadn't done any work, per se. But after giving this some more thought, I realized - it was my job to learn something.
I knew, for a fact, that is exactly what I had done.