A busy ministry season has begun…
One of the biggest reasons we moved to Kyustendil was to help with the ongoing ministry here and in the church plants nearby. The past several weeks have been very busy – we have hosted three mission teams, visiting churches around Bulgaria with them, attended pastors’ training in Macedonia, finished our first Bulgarian language course and attended a conference on Trauma Care.
Our first language class finished but our study of the Bulgarian language is far from over! We will continue studying on our own and with our instructor via Skype for the summer and start regular classes again in the fall. One of our church plants in Sofia has been requesting that we start an English language class and we are thrilled that our Bulgarian teacher in Sofia has agreed to go with us as a translator. Please pray with us as we make plans to start the group.
Last week, we attended a conference on Trauma Care. We learned from amazing experts from around the world about how to care for people who have been victims of trauma. We know that what we learned will be a benefit to the individuals we encounter everyday in our ministry. We are grateful for all the information we received and also for all the new contacts of other people and groups working to fight human trafficking in Bulgaria. The problem can be so overwhelming and seem hopeless, but we know what a great God we serve. We are energized and encouraged to see His kingdom rising up around the world to proclaim freedom for those in captivity. Over and over, we are reminded that we were called to Bulgaria “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:24). Please join us as we pray for tangible ways to use what we learned to show God’s love to others.
If you would like to support our ministry work in Bulgaria, please click here https://give.fmcusa.org/donation/df-vibgsweet
One of the biggest blessings we have in our ministry is witnessing people accept God’s invitation to His love. Experiencing people embrace their value and purpose is sacred ground. It is even more special to see children embracing this truth. This weekend as we visiting several churches we saw young children and teenagers expressing their love for God. What a beautiful picture!
Next week, we are traveling to England for the Free Methodist UK annual conference followed by some time visiting with Jill’s parents. David’s mom will be visiting Bulgaria this month, too. It has been ten months since we said goodbye to our friends and families and we are anticipating our time together immensely. Preparations have begun for the first Family Camp in Bulgaria this summer. David is developing recreation programs for the week to engage families. The work on the St. John’s Home is moving quickly. Each time we visit, there are significant changes. We continue to pray for each life that will find hope and healing within those walls.
When I (Jill) was a kid, spring fever would set in after a long winter. Just as I would get excited about the warmer weather, my mom always reminded me that “some of the worst storms we ever had were in April.” I should have remembered her warning this year. We had experienced a relatively mild winter with little snowfall and I was looking forward to spring. Until this week. In about 2 days, almost 2 feet of snow fell here in Kyustendil. It is beautiful and we are enjoying the sights of our snow covered city for a few days until it melts and spring really does start…maybe!
Last month, we shared that we were starting new Bulgarian language classes. The classes have been so helpful and we are able to build simple sentences, give and understand basic directions and ask and understand easy questions. Our teacher has been a huge blessing, spending extra time with us when we struggle.
She invited us to share about our work in Bulgaria with many students of the school in February. It was encouraging to speak with others who are shocked and saddened by the realities of human trafficking here. After giving a brief presentation, many professionals from around the world wanted to talk to us about how they could contribute their own skills and ideas to the cause. Praise God! We never imagined Him opening doors like this. Please pray as we continue to grow these relationships and especially for our teacher, Ellie. Thank you for your prayers for our move. Aside from our move to Bulgaria, it was the longest distance move we’ve made together. Everything went smoothly!
Our new roles have given us such confidence in God’s calling to Bulgaria. We enjoy the opportunities we have to serve here in ways that align so much with our giftings. We will be hosting mission teams that come to serve in Bulgaria in our upper apartment which we have affectionately named “The Sweet’s Suites.” We came across this scripture this week that gave us great joy. 1 Peter 4:9 (NIV) “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” We consider it a great privilege to be administrators of God’s grace, because He has lavishly given it to us.
Continue to pray for our adjustment to new roles and our new home. Also pray for the ladies involved in our new sewing project and that the products they are making would sell well.
It has been 6 weeks since Jill and I arrived in Bulgaria. What an adventure it has been already! Each day we find new challenges to overcome, new things we learn about the culture, and new lessons God is teaching us about ourselves. With each experience, we have an opportunity to practice grace and lots of patience. As our time has elapsed here, we have been blessed through others. We found and moved into a new apartment with two balconies with breathtaking views of the mountains. Since we moved in, I have been getting up at 6 am and sitting on the front balcony to listen to the sounds of Petrich begin its day. I sit and watch the sun come up over the mountain. I pray that God will guide us to where we need to be and each day would be a good day. I feel God’s love through each sunrise; He gives me peace that He has my back every step of the way and that the decision to come to this new country and rely on Him was the right one.
When we made the decision to obey God’s call to Bulgaria for two years to help fight against human trafficking, we were warned by many other missionaries that we would hit a culture wall and want to pack up and return home. In the past 6 weeks, we have had many bumps in our journey, from being in a “drought” of faith, to insurance difficulties and being homesick. With each of these bumps we fight through to find different ways around them and remember that God’s plan is greater than anything we will encounter. Even, or especially, in a “drought” God reveals His nature to us and affirms His plans for our lives.
A few weeks ago, Jill and I had an opportunity to work with a missions group from New York. They were here to teach the Roma and Bulgarians how to sew some simple items which could be sold as a source of income. We spent three days with the Roma teaching them how to sew with industrial sewing machines that are cumbersome. It was a relentless test of each person’s skills. Yet, as we concluded our last day of lessons, God was in the church. He was in the stitching, the fabric, and even the cumbersome machines. God was there next to each woman helping her create something beautiful. The awesome team of women from New York (Daria Roesch and Deb Stampone) and my wife were very patient in teaching their skills to the Roma and Bulgarians.
There isn’t enough space to share how amazing it was to see God’s love become real to someone for the first time. We saw it in the ladies who were learning to sew and we also saw it with the kids that were ministered to at VBS in the evenings. We visited one of the church plants in a Roma village where the pastor and his family actually hold church in their home. They give everything they have to honor God. I guess you could say that his conviction to serve and share Christ was convicting to us. Another thing that really struck me throughout the week was how similar kids around the world are. We saw pre-teen boys acting just like pre-teen boys in the US do. The time we spent in ministry that week was exhausting, yet, refreshing for us. We saw things we wish we didn’t have to like poverty that takes your breath away. But we also saw Him – His people showing His love deeply. We returned home to Petrich with another confirmation that He called us here for a purpose.
We encounter unexpected excitement on a daily basis. Right now, we are working on learning the Bulgarian language, which has proved to be a bit of a challenge. We began taking classes with Milena a woman whose family runs an insurance company next to the Little White Cloud store, part of the microenterprise work of Al and Diane Mellinger. She speaks very good English, Bulgarian and Greek. This is the Bulgarian Alphabet and the sounds they make in English next to them. Now here is the first step… Memorize each letter or symbol and try to remember which sound each one makes. When you can do that then you can read Bulgarian. Of course, you don’t know what you are saying, but you can read it. Step two is knowing and understanding what you are reading, which is the next challenge in our lessons.
Just about every Bulgarian around us knows that we are Americans. Some of them understand English fairly well, they just don’t speak it very often. Here is one of many stories of people we encounter in Petrich. (Just a side note before I begin: when we walk the streets of Petrich we assume that everyone is Bulgarian until they say, “Hello” or “Bye” in English to us.) Before leaving for Kyustendil Jill and I went out to lunch at a local gyro place. While we were in the process of ordering and trying to understand and speak Bulgarian, failing miserably, I might add, we heard a voice behind us in a perfect Midwest American accent say, “What part of the States are you from?” (At this point, if we ever hear English in Petrich, we are shocked and surprised.) Jill and I both whipped around and said at the same time “English?” Both of us had a surprised look on our face as if it was a surprise birthday party. We introduced ourselves and finished ordering so we could talk to this young man. He was from Ohio and was visiting his family in Petrich while he was on summer break from Miami University. We told him we were from Michigan and were called to Bulgaria as missionaries. I think he was just as amazed to have met us as we were to have met him. We spoke briefly, shook hands and said, “chao” or “goodbye.” After our encounter with the young man we were stunned for the rest of the afternoon, we couldn’t believe someone so close to home was here in Bulgaria ordering a Gyro. Amazing!
We look forward to sharing these funny stories and eternity-changing testimonies with you in the coming months. In the next few weeks, as you remember us in prayer, please pray that we continue to adjust to the culture and start grasping the language so we can engage with our neighbors. Please also pray as we seek wisdom about some pending decisions regarding healthcare.
When David and I were dating, one of his qualities that I loved the most was his spontaneous adventurous spirit. My comfort zone is opposed to this mindset. Order, planning, and regimen gave me security. I found that unplanned usually meant fun, excitement and discovery.
The theme has been change during our two and a half years of marriage. We’ve adjusted to changing school schedules each semester, my adjustment to working from home, a shift change for David, and a new dog, all while figuring out how to be married and live together. God has challenged me over and over again to let up my grip on the false security of constant and order.
I am by nature a person of detail. Give me paperwork to complete, numbers to crunch, or research to do and I am on it. David, however, gets bored and would rather be hiking in the woods. The amazing thing about this God-ordained partnership is that together we face life with a more balanced approach. His spontaneity is usually the force behind quick decisions while I will spend time considering how things will be implemented. Like most marriages, the differences are the source of joy and frustration for both of us.
When God called us to Bulgaria, David would have gone that day if he could. I have needed the time since August 2015 to think, dream, and yes, plan and prepare. The journey has been full of unexpected blessings and detours. In the beginning, we didn’t consider that God would ask us to re-home our beloved pets. We could not have imagined the incredible support and encouragement we have received. Learning from each other has helped us stay on God’s path as we navigate unchartered territory in our lives. We take the detours with more grace than we did earlier. And that’s good, because they come often. Like this week. We were on track, about 50 days from our planned departure. Then came the news that the visa process had changed and our departure has been pushed back to mid-July. As we processed the news and adjusted our plans for the next three months, we are reminded of God’s sovereignty over our lives. Listening for His voice and responding in obedience and with faith have given us the ability to live expectantly for His next step to be revealed.
Three months will pass quickly. We are still in need of partners – prayer and financial – as we get closer to our goal. We are in the process of working out all the details around our departure date being extended. We appreciate your prayers as we seek wisdom. We have found a wonderful home for our dog in Quebec, but we are still looking for a home for our 2 elderly cats.
Jill and I had the opportunity to visit Petrich, Bulgaria this last July for two and half weeks. For the first week we drove up into the mountains to help with Love Bulgaria Youth Conference. As the kids arrived, there was a buzz or a feeling about the place. We started to talk with some of the kids – some were more difficult to speak to because of the language barrier; yet most could speak broken English. After everyone got settled in and ate dinner it was time for the first prayer and praise session. Half way through this session I began to see all these young Roma kids that have next to nothing in material possessions with their hands raised and singing praise to our Father. It was an experience I will never forget. In that first week in Bulgaria, I became friends with many Roma kids. Hearing the sounds of their laughter, their singing and even their cries for the Father’s love moved me. These two and half weeks left me confident in God’s calling to Bulgaria. When we headed back to the United States, it felt like Jill and I left a piece of our hearts in Bulgaria and we yearn to return.
We have had several months now to wrap our brains around the fact that we are leaving behind our life in Michigan and moving around the world to minister to the people of Bulgaria. The thought of it no longer quickens my breath or causes my palms to sweat, as it once did. Since my personality leans toward the Type A side of the spectrum, I totally understand all the “logical” questions we have been asked as the word gets out about what God is doing in our lives. Questions about leaving our jobs, health care, language and culture are certainly valid considerations. I want to provide reassurance to the concerned parties, but my answer continues to be the same, “God.” God will provide for us financially. God will provide the health care we need when we need it. God will give our aging brains the capacity to learn a new language so that we can communicate His truth to the Bulgarians. And God will give us wisdom and grace to adapt to a new culture.
God has never called me to a greater leap of faith in my life. For us, though, the decision to obey Him was an easy one. We did not spend hours making lists of pros and cons. We didn’t even pray and fast for days. We simply knew that following Him in obedience to do something really hard was still better than living a comfortable life without Him. I could not fathom facing Him one day and explaining that fear, or logic, kept me from taking this step of faith.
I believe that He invites Christ-followers to take leaps of faith every day in different ways. Maybe it is sharing your faith with a co-worker; maybe it is truly trusting Him with your finances or surrendering some other part of your life to Him. This I can assure you: it will not be safe, comfortable or logical. But the peace of being in His will far outweighs the alternative.
For the first year, David and I had spent most of our marriage asking God to bless what we were pursuing – our plan for our future. They weren’t ungodly desires, but step after step, His answer continued to be “no.” Wisely, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, David finally got it. The unanswered prayers were not meant to hurt us, they were meant to show us that He has something better. At that moment, without vision for the future, we choose to surrender the safe plan we had for our lives and pursue Him. Less than a week later – the call; simply, “you are going to Bulgaria.” Truthfully, short of our job description, we have no idea what is in store for us in Bulgaria. But we know Who will be there with us. And that is enough to make us defy logic and go.
We covet your prayers during our preparations for Bulgaria. If God is inviting you to participate in the work of Team Bulgaria, please follow this link to join our support team: http://give.fmcusa.org/donation/df-vibgsweet.
We are David and Jill Sweet and we are missionaries. I wrote that more to inform ourselves than the world. The truth is still sinking in. The truth that God ordained a plan so far beyond what either of us could have even dreamed is still unbelievable to my brain.
Over the next few months, as we tell you more about us, you will hopefully learn that we are just ordinary people who made the choice to respond to God’s call on our life. God gave David and me a burden for the hurting. We both know the struggle to feel loved, significant and valued. Our hearts ache for children, especially, who live in slavery, poverty and abuse. And there is so much in this world that overwhelming does not express the emotional burden.
I would say that it didn’t surprise either of us that God called us to the mission field. But what did surprise us is the way He called us that left no room for doubt. In August 2015, Al Mellinger was sharing a mission update with our church about the work in Bulgaria. It was the second time David had heard the update, since he was managing the sound board in the first service that morning. I was moved to hear what God had been doing in Bulgaria. At some point when Al was talking, something happened to me that I have only experienced a few times in my life. God spoke clearly to my heart. Everything else faded and He said, “you are going to Bulgaria.” Later that night, we would discover that God told David the same thing at the same time!
In the next few weeks, God answer our prayers for confirmation over and over and over again. Al and Diane Mellinger had been praying for people to join Team Bulgaria with our exact skill sets. Our church was behind us. Even our families and friends, although sad, were excited.
And so, we prepare. But our preparations are minute compared to what God is doing to make our time in Bulgaria fruitful.
I was traveling for work this week and had some time in the car alone with Jesus, listening to some worship music and praising God for how He had moved this week in our journey to Bulgaria. I am so humbled and excited to see how God is going to use us, but I tend to be the one to get overwhelmed with details more than David. There was a line in the song that really spoke to me: “it’s Your breath in our lungs…” It reminded me that as we follow the required steps in this process, even this part is not in our own strength. He wants to strengthen us with His breath in our lungs with each document we complete. No detail is too small to surrender to Him.
Walking with Christ turns the world’s definition of weakness upside down. Webster says weakness is “a quality or feature that prevents someone or something from being effective or useful.” But we know that admitting our weakness means we are relying on God’s power: “But he said to me. ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV). Like Paul, I will gladly “boast about my weakness” so that God will strengthen both David and me. His breath…His strength…Working in us to make Him known.
This week, we are finishing our budget. Please pray with us for wisdom and discernment.