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The Macedonian Diaspora
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In the past two weeks, I have had the privilege of spending time with the Macedonian Diaspora in two different communities, Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona.  They have been wonderful opportunities to see old friends and make new friends and they have affirmed my strong belief that the Macedonian Diaspora plays a uniquely critical role in helping Macedonia in many ways and in promoting Macedonia in their respective countries.  While I have spent quite a bit of time with the Macedonia Diaspora around the world over the past decade, these two visits lifted my spirit and gave me encouragement.

This past Saturday I was invited to Phoenix to witness the blessing of the very first Macedonian Orthodox Church in Arizona, St. Michael Archangel.  Though the church and hall are not yet completed, Father Jovan of Toronto and Father Risto of the greater Los Angeles area came out to bless the church.  The gathering and blessing were both simple and profound.  Seeing the pride of the Macedonians assembled there proved, once again, that the Macedonian Orthodox Church provides a home and a rallying point to Macedonians everywhere.  While a number of Macedonians have chosen other denominations of the Christian faith, and some are of the Jewish faith, the Macedonian Orthodox Church provides a cultural aspect as well to Macedonian communities outside of Macedonia.

Later in the evening, there was a dinner and dance as well and Macedonian friends from Toronto, Los Angeles, and Tucson, my hometown attended.  The event, held at the Ukrainian Cultural Center, was typical Macedonian – Macedonian food and homemade rakija and mastika prepared by the Macedonian community brought to be enjoyed by all, music provided by a Macedonian band from Toronto, a blessing from the priests, the children engaging in typical Macedonia folk dances and then dancing by everyone after dinner.  Young and old, native-born Macedonians and American or Canadian-born Macedonians (with a handful of non-Macedonians such as myself) came together to celebrate Macedonia and to raise money for the church.

And this struck me: the generosity of the Macedonian communities and churches in North America.  Our Canadian and California friends have been helping the Phoenix church with financial donations and support for several years now.  They want to see the Macedonian Orthodox Church take root and grow in Arizona and because of that, they have given, and given generously.

The Apostle Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians, chapter 8, wrote this:  “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.”

Then, as now, the Macedonian churches have given of their financial resources, their time, and their talents to see the Word of God planted and growing.  It was taken some time to get to this point in the life of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Phoenix, but in short time, the church and hall will be completed and the Macedonian community will grow in size and influence even as the young children are educated and encouraged to carry on Macedonian traditions and the Macedonian language.

Two weeks before the Phoenix gathering, I was invited to Detroit where I have a two-year relationship with the Macedonian community there, the United Macedonian-Americans of Detroit.  Two years ago, we brought our film, A Name is a Name, to show the community there as well as the Macedonian community in Windsor, Canada.  Since then, we have stayed in touch and it has been my pleasure to see the Macedonians united in their efforts to not only support the community there, but also to raise funds for worthy causes back in Macedonia.  This particular event was held to honor a number of Macedonians as well as raise funds for orphanages, schools, libraries and hospitals back in Macedonia.  Again, that Macedonian generosity at work, helping and supporting others.

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at both events and in Detroit, I told the gathering my story of how I became involved with Macedonia, but I added a twist, something that I had not really thought through before.  I came to Macedonia in the summer of 1996 for a three-month temporary job and I took a leave of absence from my Washington, DC-based public relations firm to do so.  My intention was to “have a little adventure” and then return to Washington, DC and carry on with my life.  But in those three months, I came to like Macedonia so I quit my job but told myself I would stay for just one year and then return.  But in that one year I came to love Macedonia.  Nearly 17 years later, I’m still in love with Macedonia. And here’s the twist: the reason I came to love Macedonia is because the Macedonians, first, loved me and opened up their hearts and homes to me, welcomed me into both and provided me, generously, of their time and of their spirit.  For that, I am forever grateful.

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Jason Miko
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