Here is a video that recaps my blessed time in Bulgaria.
Here is a video that recaps my blessed time in Bulgaria.
Every year in summer we hold a week-long conference called Love Bulgaria to train young people how to evangelize. Our philosophy can be summed up by St. Francis Assisi “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Its a hardcore training conference with many sessions and workshops. And the thing that really sets us apart from other conferences is that we actually send the kids as teams out into two towns to practice what they learned from the conference.
I find it really hard for myself to put the experience of Love Bulgaria in writing. It is one of those events that strikes you personally in many ways, but it is hard to transmit these expereinces into writing because they may be small or subtle. To me it was like the grand finale of my trip in Bulgaria. This was the last conference in which I would participate. I got to see the friends I have made one more time. And I was able to have some really meaningful conversations and learn more about where each person was at in their life and struggles.
One of the greatest opportunities I had in Bulgaria was at this conference. I taught an acting workshop to show how drama can be used to share Jesus’ love. I taught them a short skit to perform and some techniques for character development, then we all rehearsed the skit together. It was such a blessing to be able to provide knowledge and ot present something I am passionate about to people and have them actually listen and learn something. I am sure that the lessons taught there will stick in their heads.
I gotta tell you about a Bulgarian friend of mine named Svetli. This guy is slightly older than me and has been a Christian for about 4 years. He is an extremely passionate gentleman and can be funloving one minute and serious the next.
He is in town this weekend for work so I had him come over. We went out and bought dinner. Then he saw how dirty my house was. I have been cleaning a little in preparation for my exit. But Svetli is a tough cookie. He saw my meager attempts at cleaning and decided to help me whether I liked it or not.
Over the next two days he vigorously guided mm through the various dirty parts of my apartment, from my floors to my toilet ot my greasy stove. Every 5 minutes was a shocked look on his face and him saying “Mark, Vij! Vij! (Look! Look!)” and then me groaning and grabbing the necessary materials to clean it.
He didn’t let me give up. And you know what? I actually had a lot of fun cleaning with him. At the end of everything I actually had a decently clean apartment and a very happy Svetli. I am going to miss this man very much.
So after the week in Kyustendil we went to Unnatzite, a little town near Pozerdjik. We picked up another short-term Missions team of women from California.
The trip was focused around a VBS program for the Roma children in the village. It was really hot but we worked through it and had a great time with all the children. While the women stayed at a hotel nearby us guys stayed at the pastor’s house. The pastor, Sasho, is a really great guy who works hard on his farm eveyrday.
We toured his farm and prayed for it and blessed it. We went to a town called Plovdiv and visited the sites there. I believe one of the oldest places in Bulgarias is in Plovdiv.
I had an excellent time attempting to chat with the Roma who work on the farm. Everyday they go out on the fields and work and in the evening they gather around outside and just talk. I hung out and talked with them as far as I could with my Bulgarian.
THe mission trip was a different pace than the previous one. It was neither better nor worse. There were different people and different experiences. The point is that there is no “one way” to see a short term mission trip. Each trip is filled with different needs, different tasks, and different experiences. I like how missions trips can be so different and yet all be for the purpose of loving people. And each time we host a short-term Missions team it is always refreshing and energizing.
One o f the things we are doing here is not just for Bulgarians but also to connect with Americans and help them grow as Christians through short-term missions.
So it is always a pleasure when we receive Missions teams for a week or two. A Missions Team may htink that they are here to help the Bulgarians, but it is actually a two way street. The teams usually help themselves as much or even more so than they help others. And this is good. This is what we want from our teams. We want their time in Bulgaria to be a unique and life-changing experience. It warms my heart to see all the joy that team members get from being here.
It was an absolute pleasure to welcome the Christ Community Church team here and to watch them help and be helped in this wonderful country. And I know I have made some lasting friends within that group.
So I had the pristine opportunity last weekend to help my boy Mitch, one of the Galloways who are here for two years as missionaries, with his physics work. The kids follow an online curriculum and Mitch had been struggling with his physics for awhile. Despite my complete lack of physics practice (other than the occasional losing bout with gravity when I trip) I offered to help and see if we could get through it together.
So I went over for the weekend and we set at it. It was tough going at first but thanks to the Holy Spirit within me I was granted the ability to oipen his eyes to the connections he needed to make in order to solve his homework. We did quite a few labs successfully and I even helped him make his life easier by making an excel spreadsheet to crunch some numbers. 2 for 1 learning experience!
It was as much a learning experience for me as it was for him,having only tutored someone maybe once before. I really enjoyed it. It was really fulfilling and fun and I thank God he gave us this opportunity. At the end of the day you could hear Mitch say this repeatedly with pride: Science is magic!
Old people. Let me tell you: old people are great. I love them and we need to respect them. They have seen and experienced more than you and they have survived more than you. Well I don’t know how many of you have visited nursing homes as ministry or for some event, but it is a unique experience. Part of this uniqueness is due to the fact that people ar ethere for a number of reasons. Someone may be sick. Someone just may be alone. Someone may have mental problems. You never know. Its very tricky to engage the people but its very fulfilling also.
Now, try imagining going to a nursing home in Bulgaria iwth a differenet language and everything. This is what me, Team Bulgaria and the Christ Community Church team did a couple weeks ago. It is not easy, but then most good things never are.
I have learned, and this is possibly the biggest lesson Bulgaria has taught me, that you can approach a ministry like this in two ways. The first way is to go and do what you are told, sit and play songs, do crafts, say hello, and for the most part keep a certain distance from the people. This does not just apply to nursing homes but any ministry. The second way is scary and is to dive in and try to connect with the people. Actively walking up to them saying hi then trying to learn more about them.
Many of us did this at this nursing home. It was fun and challenging. It was scary becacuse trying to talk in Bulgarian is always dififcult. God was able to give me the right words, however, and I was actaully to have a long conversation with a man in a wheelchair. I found out his daughter lives on the East Coast of the US and is a doctor. I found out a little bit about his life. I also found out he believes God has never helped him.
Well, when I heard this I was disheartened. Here I had a prime opportunity of witnessing that God had given me with this man and I didn’t know what to do. How to find the right words to say. I left the man and shared my predicament with one of the Americans there. We prayed about it and I returned to the man. I did the only thing I could do: continued our conversation. I found out his wife also was in the nursing home and that he had been married I believe for 60 years. 60 years! I said “I find it hard to believe God is not helping you when he gave you this beautiful wife who is still with you today”. We talked some more and you should see the way he hugged me! LIke he really really needed someone!
I ended the time there by saying to him “I thinking God is helping and I will be praying for you. I also hope to see you again”. And I do hope to visit again and see him. Man it was an eye-opening experience at this nursing home, one I will remember for ever. And it is what happens when you don’t just do what you are told in a ministry, but actually step over the boundary and connect with people.
One of are main ministries with the Christ Community Church group was a Vacation Bible School with the Roma (gypsy) children in Kyustendil. I love children, their smiles enthusiasm and innocence alwasy give me hope. So it was an aobsolute pleasure to serve these kids.
The VBS started with gathering the kids into a church in the Roma neighborhood and telling a Biblical story. Then we split the kids into three groups: crafts, sports and singing. We rotated the groups through each activity so each kid got to do everything. We ended by doing some songs and giving them a small snack.
I love kids. Its so fun to work with them and these Roma kids were absolutely adorable! One of the main reasons I was sent here is to work with kids like these. Every time I meet new Bulgarian children the experience is fresh and heartening.
Not only this but we also had some of the Roma from the church helping and we would meet with them afterwards. Now this was cool because before this time I only knew these Roma as a sea of faces. But spending so much time with them has let me see them as actual people with different personalities and hearts and everything.
Christ Community Church, a church from Georgia, USA, has come to use for a short term missions trip. This team is from the Galloway’s home church, so it was a unique missions trip in that the team was able to work very personally with us.
One of the places we went to is an orphanage. It is a privately funded orphange that deals with special needs children. It was heart-melting to see the children that were there. Some of them you could talk to and learn their names. Others you could just hold their hands or give them hugs. All of them loved to be hugged and to hold your our hands.
One boy in particular, while we were working outside in the garden, grabbed my hand. I tried to talk to him but he did not respond. He did not say anything but would periodically flick a rubber glove or pick up anotehr object and flick it. I think he may like the sound flicking an object makes. When he was done he would go back to holding my hand.
We went there for two days singing, doing crafts, and connecting with the kids. The staff at the orphanage is top notch and we got to know them a little bit as well. everyone who works there has their heart invested in that place. Every once in awhile I pray for the kids at this orphanage, that they grow up to know Jesus and his love and that others in this world love them.
So I was hanging out with some friends and someone mentioned to me that our server was Baptist. So I decide to talk to her and find out that she goes to a church to a nearby village. Now I have been wanting to connect with some of the local churches for quite some time but I have not yet had a good opportunity. So I talk to this girl and say I am interested in attending that I am a missionary from a Protestant church in America and I am interested in attending her church. She was very happy to give me her number so I could join her on Sunday.
The upcoming weekend some plans fell through so I called her and we arranged to meet to go. We took a taxi to the church and I was able to meet and talk with some people before hand. It was a good service and I struggled to read some of the hymns but I mor or less succeeded.
Then after service we stuck around and chatted with many of the young people who go there. I even met two Computer programmers! And we stayed after talking, getting lunch and playing Pictionary.
It was a great time and I was very glad to connect with some Christians in the area.