This weekend was Prom weekend in Petrich.
For a teenager in Bulgaria Prom happens only one time, when they are graduating high school. The Bulgarian find the best dress/tux, fancies themselves up, new hairdo everything, takes a date, and goes out.
However, they do not go to a dance. No, instead the whole classroom decides to go to a their main teacher’s house. They drive in a long train of decorated cars with their classmates and family, honking and cheering. When they get there teacher will invite them in for food and drinks. The family will stand outside and wait and take pictures. After this the whole crowd crams back into their cars and goes to a nice restaurant to celebrate the rest of their evening.
My Visa expired in April so in the recent months we have been working on my Visa extension so I can stay here for my full term. Well finally, after much arduous labor and getting papers sent every which way, I am finally legal again in Bulgaria!
If you ever decide to live in another country just be ready for more paperwork than you’ve ever faced before as well as constantly changing requirements and be very very nice to the immigration people! 🙂
Many Bulgarian yards have vegetable and flower gardens. Sometimes its a matter of survival and sometimes its a matter of aesthetics. So I decided to post pictures of these yards that Al has taken over time on Facebook so you could get a little taste of how beautiful Bulgaria is in the springtime. I have the pleasure of walking by yards like these everyday.
A couple of days ago we were having our daily meeting at 10 am when a man not known to us came to the door. He was shaking and was asking to see the bosses. We realized he probably saw the sign for our foundation on the door. Peggy translated that he had a son in the hospital who had a tumor and had undergone two surgeries. He did not survive the second one and died about an hour before the man came to us. He was trying to get enough money to meet with his wife in the capital and get his son’s remains.
We struggled through our tears at this story and agreed to help him. We gave him the money he needed and something to drink. We also gave him some hugs and told him about our church. It all felt like we could do soo little. We could not even imagine the pain in shock this man was feeling. But we did what God asked us to do and the man left with maybe a glimmer of hope.
This is what being a Christian is all about to me: loving and taking opportunities to help those. In this case God brought the man directly to us. And an interesting thing is that the amount of money the man asked for was the exact amount he had counted that we raised from a recent conference. It was just sitting there waiting for this man to come.
We went to a village called Gotse Delchev for one of our Catch Fire conferences. We held it in a Roma (Gypsy) church. I have to say it went extremely well. You could tell the kids were excited and paying attention the whole time. We did things a little differently becasue of the space we had and the number of people. But it all went very smooth. I, Mitch and Jessie gave our testimonies. We made the kids do some dares, like dancing like ballerina. They had a blast.
After the first part we had a delicious meal with vegetables, bread and kifte (like a sausage patty). There are some very strong lessons for the kids here and it is good to see that they are really absorbing them. We have a growing relationship with the church in Gotse Delchev and they love us coming there. The church was built by themselves and is beautiful, though still in progress. It was my first time there and I hope it will not be my last.
I want to explain what it is we teach at these Roma Training courses. I mentioned earlier that we taught dsicipleship. What is this?
Discipleship is the idea of mentoring small group of people. That instead of helping people come to know Christ and leaving at that we take people small groups at a time or 1-on-1 and train them to be leaders and mature in Christ.
There are many advantages to doing this. It creates a strong core of leaders within the church that can take over when old leaders rotate out. There are many churches where a senior pastor or youth pastor is the only one who really knows how everything work in their area of stewardship and when he or she gets transferred to a new church or retires the whole part of the church they were put in charge of starts to crumble. Programs fall apart and are no longer successful. Additionally when you don’t have a core of discipleship people do not grow deep in their relationship with Christ and you are stuck with a stagnant church with no ministry and no growth. But when you have a church with a discipleship core you have strong successful ministries that don’t depend on just one person because you have leaders with a passion for Christ and are listening closely to what God wants for them to do. And you also have people who can themselves disciple others, continuing the growth and strength of the church.
The idea of discipleship is hardly a new thing. It was the common way of employment in history. People would get apprenticeships under a master in a craft like blacksmithing or mercantile. The idea of “corporate” training we foreign at the time. But most importantly it was also what Jesus did. As Al says, Jesus fed more than 5000 people and again fed more then 4000 people but during the last supper only 120 people were considered his disciples and only 12 of those he was close to and taught the most. He said “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – Matthew 28:19.
I have seen this model used with success firsthand. I have a friend who has taken a young man into his house and mentored him in Christ, turning him into a passionate Believer. I myself and discipling under Al Mellinger, learning tons from him on how to do Missions and spiritual maturity.
So on the first of April this year Bulgaria decided to play an April Fool’s Day prank of its own. Instead of the normal warm 15-20 degree weather we have been having it decided to snow while we were in the capital, tricking us into thinking it was winter again.
Well, judging bty the nice morning weather, I decided to go in only a short sleeve shirt. So here I am watching snow falling down, with no jacket and no long sleeves. Fortunately we were stopping at the Metro (like a costco) so I bought a hoodie (which I needed eventually anyway) and was much warmer the rest of the day.
But it was such a cruel April Fool’s prank, Bulgaria!
One of the things we are doing here is running conferences for Youth tecahing how to evangelize. THe big one in the summer is called Love Bulgaria, but we have smaller ones throughout the year called Catch Fire events. The principle we are teaching was said well by St. Francis Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”. We teach many creative ways to outreach.
Our first place for the conference was the absolutely beautiful town of Ruse. It is called the Vienna of The Balkans. I also have some friends there so I was excited to see them after an almost two year absence.
The conference went really well. We started a little late but it wasn’t a problem. I and Mitch Galloway gave our testimonies to the youth and Al & DeeDee and Chance gave the seminar sessions. We had two workshops surrounding lunch and the church fed us well for running the event :-).
Overall it was a great time and not only did I meet some old friends I made a ton of new ones. Afterwrds almost the entire group went to the Danube River to look out over Romania. Then the crowd slowly dwindled as we made our way to a bowling alley (my first in Bulgaria). Much laughs were had there and I won the game we bowled :-P. Afterwards I spent an awesome dinner with a couple friends of mine and one of their families. We danced and ate and laughed. There should be some pictures of this weekend on my Facebook.
As Al has blogged about here: http://almellinger.com/ there is a car next to my flat with an Illinois license plate. Well this mystery has been (mostly) solved. I finally got to meet my neighbor – and owner of the car – last week. We went out to a nearby cafe and talked. He was able to understand a little English and I was able to understand just enough Bulgarian so it wasn’t as awkward as one might imagine. I found out that his whole family except him lives in Chicago, which by the way contains the largest population of Bulgarians in the US. He cannot get a Visa to go over there so he is here for the time being with his wife and kid. The car was his brother’s and somehow they got it over here. Not sure why but perhaps I will find out next time we meet.
This post is part of a seris of posts I will write about discipleship. So last weekend we did our first Roma Pastors Training of the year.
The Roma are group of people who live in Eastern Europe and immigrated from Asia centuries ago. They have their own subculture and a bit of an unsavory reputation among other Bulgarians. But there are many Christian Roma churches and they are doing good things. We run these training courses for them because they love them and equips them to be great leaders for Christ.
The conference went really well. The training took place in Samokov and there were about 60 Roma pastors in attendance. The church was very large and spacious. It is the largest Roma church in Bulgaria. many Both Al & Chance gave invigorating speeches. We had a hearty lunch and I got the wonderful opportunity to meet some of these pastors and hear about the cool things they were doing and also the cool things we were doing to help them. It was also really cool to catch up with some friends I made the last time i was in Bulgaria. I could actually talk to them a little bit with my slightly improved Bulgarian.
Later in the series I will talk about what exactly this Discipleship stuff is. It is probably the most important thing a church can do yet most churches, even in America, don’t do it well.