I'm back in Skopje, Macedonia for a couple nights after spending 5 days in Peja, Kosova. Peja is the 2nd largest city in Kosova with about 100,000 people. The city is just on the edge of the mountains separating NW Kosova and Montenegro.
It is beautiful country. I know the latitude is about the same as northern Nebraska and lower South Dakota and some of the country looks similar. The lower parts of the mountains reminded me of the Black Hills and some of the lower country is rolling, hilly farmland with lots of rocks which I all looks like it was formed by glaciers I guess.
In a huge nutshell, the people are about 90% Albanian Kosovars...Kosavars that speak Albanian and have been here for hundreds of years. But before the middle ages and conquest by the Turks, they were probably Christians...remember Paul's vision, "hey, come over the Macedonia and help us!". Technically the country is 90+% Muslim now; but in reality less than 10% are devout, most are completely secularist.
The people I met were all friendly and social. I was told that during the winter, it gets dark at 4 pm and it's just plain ugly for 3 months or so. And then comes the promise of Spring (right NOW) and people start coming out in droves. There are lots and LOTS of little sidewalk cafe's and they are just covered up with people.
There are lots of young people. There was a baby boom after the War in the 90's and I guess 60-70% of the population is under 30.
(A couple of the missionary kids- Elyse and Kevin invited me to join them and their friends for a hike and picnic. We walked about a mile and half into the hills/mountains behind their house and the Kosovar guys cooked Chufta and Chewbaba (like hamburger and sausage) on a grill. A pretty sweet deal.)
I met almost a dozen international missionaries, about half American and the others from all over. I stayed with a family of 5 that I met through an online contact with International Teams. Randy and Linda Pyle and their kids (Elyse, Kevin and Evonne) have been here 8 years after serving about that long in nearby Albania. They could write a book! They ministered to Kosovar refugees in Albania during the War and then came here pretty much as soon as they could afterwards.
There is still a pretty large contingent of UN/NATO/EU Peacekeeping forces here. I wanted to ask the Italian Guards at the checkpoint on the edge of town to let me take a picture with them...or to get a picture holding one of their really big guns...but I chickened out. Randy told me later that I should have since they are probably pretty bored and it would have been entertaining for them!
The poeple here love Bill Clinton and they even like GW. In short, they like Americans. It's pretty funny to see all these little stores named after American icons. There's a brand of beer advertised on billboards with an American Flag in the background. You see US Flags flying pretty regularly.
The international missionary community here is fairly close knit. They at least all know one another and they care for and work with one another at least as well as I've ever seen anywhere else. The ones I met were from at least 4 organizations. They all pretty much said they'd pray for me and hope I can go wherever the Lord leads...but that they all hope I end up back in Peja. I met 2 girls from IMB; one of them is from Alabama.
If you've heard about recent fighting or anything, mostly it's overblown. It's very sporadic and limited to one or two locations. There is hope here. There is opportunity. But it's a window that isn't guaranteed to remain open. Pray for the Pyle's and other missionaries in Peja.