Coffee & missions blend in Macedonia tourist town
Ava Thomas, Baptist Press
August 25, 2011

Coffee & missions blend in Macedonia tourist town

Coffee & missions blend in Macedonia tourist town
Ava Thomas, Baptist Press
August 25, 2011

OHRID, Macedonia – It didn’t take much to sell Ginna

Caldwell and Hannah Gilstrap on their current jobs.

Make coffee. Drink coffee. Talk to people.

Get up the next day and do it again.


The two were working as baristas in Alabama when they said “yes” to running a

coffeehouse in Ohrid, Macedonia, for a couple of years as International Mission

Board journeymen.

“A friend told me once, ‘You can’t spend your whole life in a coffeehouse,

Ginna.’ I beg to differ,” Caldwell said with a grin. “I love the coffee culture

– sitting, having conversations, getting to know people. Discipleship happens

over a cup of coffee.”

In the summer, the little city of Ohrid is crawling with vacationers.

Businesspeople in the Balkans flock there to eat fish and ajvar (a salad made

of red bell peppers) next to a calm, clear lake.

IMB photo

Hannah Gilstrap (left) and Ginna Caldwell plan for the night’s shift at the coffeehouse founded by missionaries in Ohrid, Macedonia. The two spend hours each day making coffee and having conversations with the locals in hopes of sharing the gospel. Three Bible studies have been started from the coffeehouse ministry.

“I have peace in my heart there by the lake,” one tourist said.

But Gilstrap likes it best when the summer is over and all the tourists fade

back into the urban grind they came from. That’s when the real peace comes, she


“The people of Ohrid come into the coffeehouse and hang out for hours playing

chess, having conversations and talking about spiritual things,” Gilstrap said.

“I love creating community, and something like this coffeehouse does that.”

The coffeehouse, named Ima Vreme (Macedonian for “there is time”), sits tucked

in a side street just off city center, perfect positioning for locals to pass

by often, drop in and stay.

“We have long talks and we listen with the intent of speaking the truth of

Christ into their lives,” Caldwell said.

That’s the heart of Ima Vreme, said Brian Davis, who serves as a church planter

in Ohrid through the International Mission Board with his wife Mandy.

On warm nights, as Caldwell and Gilstrap make iced coffee and chat with

regulars, Davis sits at a table just outside the open door of the coffeehouse,

engaging a few men in deep conversations about faith and God.

“It’s not a business. We aren’t out to just make great coffee and have a lot of

traffic,” Davis said. “We want to plant house churches, and the coffeehouse

gives us a reason to talk. We want to do everything we do with intentionality

and have a constant trickle of people that’s going somewhere.”

And it is going somewhere. Three Bible studies have started from conversations

at Ima Vreme in its four years of existence, and the soon-to-be pastor of one

of Davis’ house churches came to faith because he came through the coffeehouse.

“It’s just a coffeehouse – we don’t use it as a church meeting place or anything

else. But people know it represents something bigger,” Davis said.

The neutral location affords a lot of creativity in how to bring people through

the doors and make friends who will come back for more conversations, he said. “Twice

a month we try to have something special, from PlayStation tournaments and

karaoke nights to art exhibits and cooking classes.”

A band from William Carey University in Hattiesburg, Miss., even came once to

do a concert series, and other teams have helped distribute school supplies

from the coffeehouse.

“If we try it and it flops, it’s OK,” Davis said. “We do what we can to bring

people in, meet them and build relationships, and then we put a lot of effort

into follow up.”

Caldwell and Gilstrap – in addition to studying the Macedonian language – spend

a lot of time preparing English lessons to teach at the coffeehouse. The

intensive classes taught there are packed with people.

Caldwell also is investing time in translating a women’s Bible study on Ruth

into Macedonian.

“When I was in college, I heard a lot of missionaries’ stories and began to

realize that no matter what I do with my life, I needed to be doing it with the

intent of building relationships and sharing the Gospel,” Caldwell said. “And

right now, this couldn’t be more perfect – for both of us.”

Gilstrap agreed, though she said it’s completely different from what she once

pictured missionaries doing.

“Growing up in GAs (the Girls in Action missions program), I heard about

missionaries, and I never had any desire to be one or move out of Alabama,”

Gilstrap said. “But in college, I started learning more about missions – that

it’s not extra-holy people out there being missionaries; it’s just normal

believers in Christ who are getting out there doing what we are all called to


(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission

Board in Europe. To learn more about taking a volunteer team to help with the

coffeehouse ministry in Ohrid, email Brian Davis at [email protected].

For information about the journeyman program and other ways to serve overseas,

visit www.imb.org.)