Tanja Strklevska is Macedonian. And in Macedonia, a small country directly north of Greece, that means a great deal.
This is Tanja's home and culture: a culture in which religion and secular traditions have been sewn together into one garment. Often, that garment isn't one Christians can wear with a clear conscience.
For instance, it's common for friends to drink Turkish coffee together. After they finish the coffee, they turn over the cups. Soon the sediment settles, creating lines that Macedonians interpret to foretell the future. This is a common form of occultism, and one that Tanja encounters almost daily.
Suzana Petrovska is a staff member with Cru who understands the battle Tanja faces. Suzana is also Macedonian.
The two women met at Saints Cyril and Methodius University in the capital city of Skopje. Tanja had made a decision to follow Jesus at age 16, but it was at the university in 2002 that her relationship with God began to grow.
Suzana and Tanja first met at a prayer time organized by a group of American missionaries who came to Macedonia for a year. A part of Cru's U.S. Campus Ministry, the group of eight came to tell students about Jesus and develop a Macedonian Christian group on campus.
There are benefits to short-term teams like this. Often they are effective in helping launch a new Christian organization and fostering its growth. As foreigners, they can tell people about Jesus unabashedly and gather interested students. But there are drawbacks to such teams.
"It's very difficult for students to establish lasting relationships with people who are here for a year or two," Suzana says. "It is important for a [Macedonian] missionary to be involved in peoples' lives for a long time."
Since meeting Suzana, Tanja has learned how to tell other Macedonians about the hope she has found in a personal relationship with God. The first person Tanja reached out to was her younger sister, Daniella, who also chose to follow Jesus. Tanja now leads two Bible studies and is planning to finish her studies in education, and then possibly go on to study theology.
In 1990, the first full version of the Bible was translated into Macedonian. Eight years ago began the first focused effort to initiate conversations about Jesus with college students in Macedonia. Three years ago, only short-term teams led the ministry; today, there are 7 Macedonian staff members like Suzana.
Scott and Jen Mathews are American staff members on Suzana's team. In spite of their commitment to live and work in Macedonia long term, they realize there are many things they cannot do as well as a Macedonian.
"Tanja is spiritually mentored by Suzana, someone who speaks her language-not her language with an American accent or her language with a lot of effort," Scott says, "but someone who speaks with her culturally and understands what it's like to live here in Macedonia."
Jodi Wallace is a staff member with Worldwide Student Network, a Cru ministry that helps send short-term workers to countries like Macedonia. "We're not about replicating American-style worship [overseas]," Jodi says, "but introducing people to Jesus and letting them follow His lead, reaching their country in their style and customs."
Cru has built its ministry internationally on this premise. Of the 26,016 staff members worldwide, only 4,854 are Americans like Scott and Jen. The surprising majority-81 percent-are indigenous staff members like Suzana. And like Suzana, they long for their fellow countrymen to find the truth that empty Turkish coffee cups cannot supply.