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.
We are still seeking partners to help fund the work we are doing in Bulgaria. If you would like to make a one-time or recurring gift, click here https://give.fmcusa.org/donation/df-vibgsweet.