I grew up in church-going family and I was amongst the first generation of children in Macedonia to attend Sunday school. My maternal grandmother bought me an illustrated youth Bible, which I read – and I found that I hated God! It was not that I hated some imaginary being that my unenlightened Methodist environment was forcing me to believe in, because the sociocommunist regime of what used to be Yugoslavia had never succeeded in inducing in me any doubt about God’s existence. For a variety of reasons, some of them rather twisted, I developed a picture of the God supposedly revealed in the Bible as a spoilsport at best and as a sadistic tyrant at worst. I thought of God as someone who asked for everything, without offering anything in return. He demanded obedience, fasting, prayer, and, most of all, going to church on Sundays – during the most exciting football matches!
Then I met two people from Nigeria. They joined the local church during their studies of Medicine in Macedonia. I am not sure what their exact secret was, but it was from them that I began to get a different picture of God – of one who first of all wants to give, rather than to rob, and of one who loves people, including me, and wants the best for them. One of the Nigerians befriended me, and for a few years nurtured me in this new understanding of God – the God of love and mercy.
In the meantime I went to theological college, and on graduation I worked for the Evangelical Church in Macedonia. Eventually, my wife, Nada, and I started a national student movement in cooperation with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and establishing a publishing house and a bookstore called Metanoja. This was part of our vision to use relevant mediums to reach out to segments of society that would not dream of visiting a church. We decided that some further education would enhance the pursuit of this vision, and in 2005 we went to the UK where, at the University of Oxford, I got my doctorate in Theology (Patristics), and my wife got her masters in International Publishing from Oxford Brookes University.
Currently we are back in Macedonia where we have recently started the BIFC with a vision of using the theological and cultural legacy of the Balkans to engage in a dialogue and debate with the most representative aspects of society, such as the University, the arts, the media, the governing structures, and other agents that form public opinion.
In March we held a launch week for the BIFC and we received immense help from Oxford University students and lecturers who came as a group organised by St Aldates Church and the Oxford Pastorate. These twelve scholars launched the BIFC’s programme Oxford Connections. With them, the BIFC organised eleven lectures (one of them organised by the Cabinet of the President of Macedonia), a visit to the Parliament, a major magazine interview, two sermons and numerous informal meetings with university professors, students, journalists and church members.
The major event during the launch week was carried out with the cooperation and generous support of the Veritas Forum. The event took the form of a lecture delivered by Dr Jonathan Brant with the title On the (Religious) Power of Art: Experiences of Revelation Through Painting and Film, with a respondent from the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Prof. Dr. Denko Skalovski.
One of the central aims of the BIFC is to stir up a response in the wider society by engaging with it through lectures, seminars, debates, media coverage, research, and publishing. Judging from the launch by the launching week, the presence of the BIFC in Macedonia will never go unnoticed. The majority of the feedback we have received on our different activities has been overwhelmingly positive. The BIFC has received open invitations for further cooperation including several from the university and from the President’s Cabinet. Of course, we have also faced some opposition, but this confirms BIFC’s relevance for Macedonia and the Balkans.
The aftermath of the launch will have a prolonged effect. One of the leading magazines of economics and business, Kapital, will feature an exhaustive interview with Peter Eckley who is doing a DPhil at Oxford in Economics, and the Macedonian Television has recently aired the recorded lecture by Dr Brant.
Immediately after Easter, the BIFC will have another ten days of activities, this time with a guest from Australia, Dr Michael Jensen (DPhil Oxon), who will give several public lectures. The central lecture is titled Dying to Live: Christian Martyrdom and Identity in the 21st Century. Dr Jensen will also contribute toward another focus of the BIFC, that of helping the theologically trained church leaders and workers enhance their own theological understanding and thus enhance their respective ministries with the programme Theology for Life.
Part of the vision for the future is to re-open the bookstore cafe Metanoja, as a way of making our ministry more accessible on a daily basis, and using the cafe environment to get to know new people, and engage with them in a friendly debate.
Our ultimate vision is to develop the BIFC into a relevant entity within Macedonia and the Balkans, so that its opinions and analyses are taken into account and used as a point of reference when it comes to the formation of public opinion.
This is just the beginning and there are many circumstances in which we will still need to ‘beat the odds’. For this, most of all, we would value your prayers.