Despite challenges, ministry cares for community


Key points:

  • For many years, the Miss Stone Center in North Macedonia has been a beacon of charity and hope.
  • Despite challenges like rising food costs and staffing shortages, the ministry finds ways to meet increasing need.
  • In addition to daily meal programs, the center offers home care for the elderly and educational programs for Roma children.

Despite numerous obstacles, the staff of the Miss Stone Center remains committed to serving marginalized people in the community.

The center, which provides daily meals to around 250 people, is a diaconal institution closely associated with The United Methodist Church in North Macedonia. Located in Strumica, it is the flagship institution of Diakonia North Macedonia. 

Activities include Meals on Wheels, which regularly delivers meals to elderly people, a soup project that provides another 50 meals daily to people in need, a home care ministry for seniors, and individual educational and practical help for poor and marginalized people.

The maximum capacity of the kitchen in the Miss Stone Center had already been increased from 150 to 170 meals per day. Currently, there are more than 195 people who benefit from the Meals on Wheels project, with over 50 others on a waiting list.

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“The new arrivals are in such bad circumstances, we simply can’t turn them away,” said Mitko Konev, head of the Miss Stone Center.  

The waiting list also is long for the Warm Soup for Radovish project, which provides not just soup but a nutritious stew that varies daily. However, capacity reasons and limited financial resources limit the number of food recipients to 50.

The months of May and June were rainy, delaying cultivation of many agricultural products. Since July was very hot, this meant a considerable loss of harvest, which led to big price increases in agricultural products. That affected the center’s food outreach.

The center also had to reduce the scope of its home care project due to a nursing shortage. It has not been possible for a year and a half to find replacements for nursing staff who have left, because well-trained nurses are being recruited from health facilities in wealthier Western European countries.

With only one remaining specialist on staff, scaling back was the only way to ensure the high quality of medical and nursing assistance for elderly and mostly bedridden persons.

The center has received a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief as well as ongoing support from the Fund for Mission in Europe, which is part of the European Methodist Council, and Connexio, the mission agency related to The United Methodist Church in Switzerland and France. Farmers in the area have donated food, and the recipients themselves also contribute funds.

Martin Konev, executive director of Diakonia North Macedonia, which oversees the Miss Stone Center. 

Martin Konev, executive director of Diakonia North Macedonia, which oversees the Miss Stone Center.

Martin Konev, executive director of Diakonia North Macedonia, said it’s not about size or the influence of the Miss Stone Center; it’s about sharing God’s love with people in need.

“The joy is special when we include people (on the waiting list) for a long period of time, so every opportunity to increase the number is a special moment for us,” he said.

As part of the Diakonia, the center also works with Roma children and youth in Ohrid. Staff help preschool children prepare for school when their parents don’t have the financial means to send them to kindergarten. The center also provides  extracurricular programs during the long summer break.

“The youngest children of preschool age, whom we accepted last year, enjoy the school the most. The success shown by the children in completing the first grade was excellent and very encouraging,” said Christina Cekov, who handles communication for the center. She is the wife of a retired United Methodist pastor.

She said the children have integrated well into the community in the first class and, in terms of performance, some of them keep up with the strongest students. One boy in the group, Omer, even won first prize in a math competition for first-graders.

“Omer is our hero. By the end of the first grade, he was already able to read, write and retell fluently. We’re all proud of him,” Cekov said.

Schweizer is assistant to Bishop Stefan Zürcher, Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe, in Zurich. 

News media contact: Julie Dwyer at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.   

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