Saturday, July 25, 2009

What I Learned on the Other Side of the Planet...
(or, Why We Do What We Do)

Sitting here on the plane over the Atlantic Ocean, I can already feel the emotions and memories from the last two weeks slipping away. As we get closer and closer to home, its as if my mind is switching itself into a completely different reality. I dread ever returning to "normal" after all I have seen, heard, and been a part of over the last two weeks. Instead, I hope that the amazing things God has been working out in my heart will return with me and change every aspect of my life moving forward.

For instance, I return with a renewed sense of urgency regarding prayer. How we as Christians can settle for a prayerless walk with God amazes me, having experienced the amazing strength and presence of God that is found in daily, continual prayer. However, I have been here before and allowed my prayer life to become dull and routine. I don't want to go back to that again! I have tasted the goodness of a life lived in prayer… please Lord, don't let me forget it!

I was also encouraged regarding my calling as a teacher and preacher of God's word. I was given two opportunities to teach while in Bulgaria: Once in the church at Elin Pelin and another at the camp's evening service on the last night. Both times reinforced in my mind and heart that this is what God has called me to do with my life. I also had numerous opportunities to counsel and share God's word with teens at the camp in one-on-one conversations and really experienced the Holy Spirit giving me the words and scripture needed for the discussions at hand. It was amazing to see how God ministered to those kids and use me to do it. I was honored and humbled at the same time, fully realizing that it was all God.

I can say with absolute conviction that God has called our congregation to this work in Bulgaria. What we are doing there is hugely important, not only to the Church in Bulgaria, but to our body as well. I realize that some in our church still wonder what exactly we are doing in Bulgaria and often as a team we have struggled to communicate that vision. I hope and pray that as you followed along in the blog and our various Facebook postings, you at least got a taste of the work that is being done. However, our mission is about much more than physical labor on behalf of our Bulgarian brethren. Our primary focus is on relationship.

In many ways, the Church in Bulgaria is working alone, still finding its way out of the darkness of Communism. Unfortunately, many American missionaries have stepped into this void to do work without commitment. One of our dear Bulgarian friends related that she initially distrusted our team because she had seen so many Americans show up to do their "mission" just to return home and brag about the work they did in Bulgaria, but never returning. The Bulgarian Church needs to be shown that they are part of the worldwide body of Christ. If we are going to stand with them in ministry, we must be willing to commit to that relationship for the long haul. That is what our congregation has done and our team truly stands out in their minds. They know we are there because of our love for them. (John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.)

We have committed to a long-term relationship of support and camaraderie that is very important to their perception, not only of us, but of the Church in America and worldwide. Will the Church come to their side in their hour of need, or leave them to go it alone, aside from the occasional missionary trip for brownie points? We won't do that! When we go to Bulgaria, our ministry is far more than painting buildings or running a Vacation Bible School in a kid's camp. Year after year, we are expressing a desire to share in their burdens, whatever they may be. We are demonstrating that we are family and that we want to be a part of the great work God is doing both in them and through them.

This nation will be reached with the gospel because, through all that the country has been through, God has preserved a remnant faithful to Him. Now, that remnant has grown into fully functional churches led by and filled with people who love God and desire His will more than anything else. They are winning back their countrymen from the lies of Communism and false religion and the Church in Bulgaria will continue to grow through their labors, by the power of God.

We are privileged to be able to stand with them in those labors in any way, however small. We have much to learn from our Bulgarian family as they demonstrate unswerving faithfulness to the call in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Here, with all our freedom to evangelize and live our faith, in our churches that are rich with resources and full of people, we often fail to be the Church that God has called us to be. We are becoming irrelevant in our culture because people do not see in us what the Church is meant to be. We are not demonstrating Christ's power and love to the world around us, and we have nothing else to offer! May we learn from the Church in Bulgaria, and elsewhere in the world, that this work we build is not our own nor do we have what it takes to build it. We must become absolutely dependent on Christ to supply both the direction and the power to build His Church as He sees fit. Only then will we see the amazing things that have marked His people since the beginning.

One day, we will all stand before our Lord and He will not care if we are American, or Bulgarian, or Mexican, or African… He will only look at what we have built and how we have built it. Our works will be tried be fire and their true value displayed for all to see. It is so easy, in our culture of prosperity and seeming spirituality, to look at all we have and do and assume that we are building the Church. But whose church are we buiding… God's or our own? Let us remain faithful to His work, both here and around the world, and join hands with our Christian family everywhere to see the work completed in a way that would please our Heavenly Father!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on the Way Home
Linzi, Marinna, & Megan

Here are thoughts from some of the team while coming home...

Linzi Jo

There are so many things I could say about this trip. I could go on for days. But if I had to break it down to a couple of things I can. Who touched my life? There is a teacher at the camp who I have known for a few years, but I have never really gotten a chance to get to know her. She came up to me on the last day of camp and she hugged me and didn't let go. She told me that she was so impressed with me. She said she can see that God has given me a gift with kids, and she can see that we truly love them. She told me that she was proud of me and she loved me. That moment was worth all the bugs!

How did God use me? Wow, how didn't He use us? Before we left for Bulgaria, we wrote a letter to God asking or just praying about our trip. I got mine and read it and I saw that God did answer my prayer. I prayed that He would use me any way He could and He did. I painted a mural, did a mini purity conference, I helped with the kids, I ministered to a friend. I asked to grow closer to Him and that happened too. God revealed many things to me; things I didn't know about myself. I am a new person, a young woman of Christ.

The last night in Bulgaria, I was talking with our girls and I said, "You see whyBulgaria?" and with tear-filled eyes they said yes. I see the impact we made on the kids and people of Bulgaria, and I also see the impact God had on our kids' lives through the people of Bulgaria and I am so thankful for that.


Marinna

This trip has been a life chagning experience for me. I saw so much of God... it's amazing! I never thought I would see so much of Him in a moment, but He's God. Bulgaria is more than a country we go to each year... it's a desparate place where God seems hidden. In America, they say how much we need God and it's true, but people know about Him here and He's everywhere... we're just so distracted by other things that we don't see Him. But in Bulgaria, you never see signs or churches or anything.

Not only did Bulgaria need the team and I, but I needed Bulgaria. I was in this tight shell that I needed to break, but I didn't have anything hard enough to break it. When I saw those kids and how much of a relationship they wanted from us, I couldn't stay in the shell. So I prayed to God to help me. "Help me open up and be a part of their lives," and with that desire it was easy. I wasn't afraid anymore.

Not only did I open up with the kids, but with my team as well. They have never seen the real Marinna before but, on this trip, they did and they told me what a blessing it really was. So God brings us to change the world and in that I think we are changed as well. I know I did!

I thank God every day for what He has done for me and I loved the way He did it. He did it through the kids. I love those kids with all of my heart. They are just so amazing! From 7 to 19 years old, they touched me in ways I can't even describe... but I can tell you this: They love God so much. More than I have seen in adults. And that speaks to me. Thank you God for everything you have done in my life and I can't wait to see what else you have in store.


Megan

For me, this trip to Bulgaria has been a huge learning experience. Even though I was there to teach the kids, I feel like I'm coming home a new person. I've gotten a lot closer to God through prayer. The whole camp was about praying and God really used that to speak to me. I'm now praying about everything, even things that would have seemed small before. I also learned a lot about family and teamwork.

When we first arrived in Sofia, I immediately saw open arms from people I didn't know. Even the small things like being introduced informally had a big impact on me. I realized that even in Bulgaria, all of God's children are united through Him. I felt like part of the family as soon as we met.

When we were at camp, I loved how there were no age barriers. Teenagers were friends with little kids and didn't think twice about it. Itzo (Pastor Ludmil's son) especially made a big impression on me because he was taking care of the kids and he wasn't even related to them. One of the things I love the most about Bulgaria is that they are one big family. I am really going to miss all fo the incredible people I've met! I can't wait to see what God does in all of our lives.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vance, the Hillbilly Moses

In keeping with our bayou theme, Vance plays the part of Moses...

video

More Pics...

The sleeping quarters were the worst of it though. We didn't come to sleep, we came to serve the kids! Here are some pics of the team loving what we do:












Pictures From Camp

We are now back in Sofia and I will write more about our camp experience later, but first I want to share some pictures...

First up, the camp itself. This is the bungalow that Joey and I stayed in. Very rustic...













Although it looks like the bungalow sleeps two, we actually shared it with about 10 or twenty... spiders, mosquitos, and other bugs. Seriously, Joey woke up one morning and swept an inch-long spider off his bed that he had crushed in the night. When we sprayed the room with bug spray, we got 4-5 visible ones as well. The bathroom is pretty much what you see in the picture: a sink and a toilet with a shower head in between. The drain was a hole in the floor.



More of the Camp at the Black Sea

Greetings again from the land of Bulgaria. I apologize for the lack of updates, but the internet coverage here is spotty at best. We are staying at a camp with bungalows scattered across the grounds, but the only access point is in the main office. From my room, I get one bar (or none) of signal so its always anybody's guess whether the pages will even load all the way. As for uploading pictures and video, the process is almost torturous!

So, I am writing this now in WordPad without internet. Then, I will go over near the office where the signal is stronger to actually post it and upload the accompanying pictures. I would do it all from there, except that the mosquitos (and other insects) would eat me alive during the process!

On to the camp itself... Our time here has been amazing! God is working every day and each of us has had many opportunities to be used by Him in service. Every morning, during our VBS time, one team member performs a drama as a character in that day's bible story. Then the groups split out into games and crafts. Finally, they take part in various workshops organized by our team members. Also, our teens take part in the morning classes with the Bulgarian teens, and each of our teens is speaking once during the week. The rest of our time is spent in helping the Bulgarian leaders manage the camp and, more importantly, building relationships with the children. The kids range in age from 5 to 17 and we make it a point to spread ourselves out and touch them all. They have thoroughly embraced us as friends and are already beginning to dread our separation in two days... so are we!




Today, Vance and I taught on the Passover meal and tied it into Communion. Then, we delivered the gospel message and gave an opportunity for any non-believers to receive the Lord. Two young children accepted Christ! Then, every kid wrote their name on a sticker and some added things they wanted to give up to God. All the stickers were then placed on a cross we had on display. It was such a sweet time to watch them going forward to the cross and soberly placing their names there.

As I mentioned earlier, the relationships we are building are such a huge importance. Just yesterday, I had two different opportunities to minister one-on-one with teenagers who were really struggling with spiritual issues. I was able to bring God's word to bear in both instances and encourage them. It was such a joy, not only to be given the words to speak, but to see the emotions on their faces change through the discussions and watch them walk away with joy! We are truly dependent on God here and He has not disappointed. I pray daily for strength and energy in spite of the lack of rest and God has provided. We are averaging 4-6 hours of sleep a night, yet God gives us the ability to serve all day long without wavering. Yesterday, a preteen girl lost an earring in the street and was crying. We began searching and spent about 20 minutes looking before stopping to pray for a few moments for God's help. 20 seconds later, we found the earring! That's just a small taste of how God has been working in our midst.

Tonight, Joey will be sharing God's word in our evening service and I will wrap up the teaching tomorrow night. Pray for the Holy Spirit to direct us and for open hearts and ears to receive what He wants to say. Continue to lift up the team for strength and health. We have had several people fighting sickness but all seems to be well today. Every one of us needs God's strength though, both physical and mental/emotional. We leave on Sunday to return to Sofia, so pray for traveling mercy as well. Finally, pray for our trip home as it is long and we will be worn out. We are continually grateful for your prayers and support. Please add a comment to this blog as well as on our Facebook pages or via e-mail. Comments to the group are read aloud and offer much encouragement. God bless you all and thank you for supporting us so that we can be here in the middle of the amazing things God is doing!


Слава на Бога (Slava na Boga... Glory to God)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Greetings from Albena!

Woohoo! I finally got internet access here at camp so I can get back to blogging. There's a free wireless access point at the campground we're staying at, but it took two days to find an employee at the reception desk that could give us a password. Anyway, I'm online again and there's so much to share, I hardly know where to start.

The camp changed locations this year from Chernomoretz, on the southern shore of the Black Sea, to Albena up north. We're less than 30 miles from Romania as the crow flies.We have been comparing the two camps a bit and, while this camp definitely has more bugs and spiders, along with patches of stinging nettles, the food is WAAAAYYYYY better and our bungalows get daily maid service (beds are made and things are straightened up). All the returning team members have enjoyed catching up with our friends, and everybody is making new friends as well.

Yesterday, we woke up at 5:30am to load up the vans and head across the country. After a 7 hour trip, we arrived, unpacked, and spent the evening with the kids. This morning, we began our first full day of camp, including our 2 hour daily VBS. Our theme is "Crocodile Dock" and is a bayou, Tom Sawyer-ish theme. Vance performed as a hillbilly version of Moses as he shared the story of meeting God at the burning bush. One of our Bulgarian friends, Eti, translated everything for him to the children. This is required in everything we do, even in our personal conversations many times. After awhile, it becomes second nature to pause every few seconds for the translation. We also did games and crafts, along with breakout workshops for several different projects. Brianna got to share with the Bulgarian teens during the morning teaching session.

In addition to our VBS time, we also spend time daily with the children both at the swimming pool and the beach where we function as the safety monitors. We also enjoy three meals a day with them and some free time throughout as well as an evening service. Worship is being handled by several teens from the Blagavest church and I am assisting on the drum. Pastor Chuck and Lynda taught together on the first night and each night brings a different speaker. Both Joey and I will be given the opportunity to teach the evening service later in the week.

I will bring you more tomorrow, but now I am off to bed. The weather is hot and humid so the big decision is: a) leave the windows open for at least some air movement to cool things down a little, or b) face the heat and shut the windows to keep the mosquitos out. Fortunately, a storm is nearby so we hope the rain will keep and make option A work!

In spite of the bugs, humidity, and other challenges, the team is having an incredible time serving God and the Bulgarian people. Please pray for the Robnett family who are struggling with various illness and injuries. Also, traveling mercies for Pastor Chuck and Lynda, who will be driving to Gabrovo tomorrow to spend some time ministering to an old friend. Lynda's neck has given her some trouble while on the road, so lift that up as well. Above all, pray that God gives each of us the strength and heart for the ministry that lies before us and that doors of opportunity would open and be recognized by each of us through the upcoming week. God is amazing and we are so blessed by all that He is doing here! I will post pics and video clips tomorrow. Leka nosht...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday in Bulgaria

Today was our first Sunday in the country and our team split up for the morning service. Pastor Chuck and Lynda, along with Joey, Barbi, Linzi, and Kenne went to the Blagavest church here in Sofia where Pastor Chuck taught. The rest of us drove out to Elin Pelin and attended church there. After worship, all of the teens introduced themselves and spoke briefly to the congregation. Then Vance and I were given the opportunity to teach. Finally, Pastor Niki delivered some closing remarks. The amazing thing was, without any collaboration, all three of us spoke about the same things. It really is exciting how God works to speak what He wants to His church!


Afterward, the church fed us a huge meal of shopska, kufte, and kebapcha followed by dessert snacks and coffee. We were so amazed by their generous hearts and desire to bless us. I told them that even though we had come to serve them, they were teaching us how to serve. We finally waddled out of there, stuffed with food, and headed back to Sofia to rejoin the group!


We wrapped up the afternoon with a meeting between our teens and the teens from the Sofia church. After getting to know each other and praying together, we spent an hour or two preparing materials for the camp at the Black Sea. We had a great time working and fellowshipping together. While spending time with old friends, it was also a chance to meet many new teens as well.

Tonight, after a short break, we're cleaning our apartment top to bottom and packing everything we need for the Black Sea. Hopefully, we get to bed early because we wake up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to meet with the buses of children and then its off across Bulgaria to Albena for camp. It may be a few days until I update again, depending on internet availability there, but I will write as soon as possible to share all the new things God is doing.

In the meantime, keep us in your prayers and stay in touch. Many of you have been in contact through Facebook and Skype and the connection with all of you at home really helps alot! Also, feel free to leave comments here on the blog (as some of you have done) and I will make sure to read them to the entire team.

Finally, if you have a Facebook account, add me as your friend (Mike Kern) and take one of our "How Well Do You Know the Bulgaria Servant Team" quizzes. They are funny and informative and you will hear about some funny things that aren't mentioned here in the blog. Thank you for your support and God bless!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Elin Pelin

We spent another day today painting in the church here in Sofia. We now have at least a first coat on all five Sunday School rooms and should be able to wrap it all up tomorrow. Linzi has begun the creation of her amazing "Bible Heroes" murals for the walls. Here is a picture of the early stages of her Noah's ark. As I write this at 12:45 in the morning, Joey and Linzi are actually continuing to work on this by the light of a video projector hooked up to my laptop. Now that is a dynamic duo!

After spending about five hours painting and pulling weeds around the church, we cleaned up and headed out to Elin Pelin, a nearby town. There, we spent some time in the home of Pastor Niki, his wife Sveta, and their two great girls, Cali and Viki before heading off to their church. The Friday night service was scheduled at the last minute, but the room was full as the congregation came out to spend time with our team. We enjoyed a great time of fellowship and an even greater time of worship together with them, singing along in our best Bulgarian. Then, Pastor Niki welcomed the team and our pastor taught from God's Word.


Afterwards, we spent an incredible 45 minutes in fellowship with the body before heading off to a nearby pizza restaurant with the pastor's family and some of the church. We visited the same pizzeria last year and it was as great as I remembered. In fact, I've had trouble showing any appreciation for Pizza Hut and Domino's since last year and tonight I remembered why. The food was amazing, but the fellowship was even better. We told stories, laughed together, and shared some fun dinner table games with our Bulgarian friends for about 2 hours. Then, we finally headed home for some much needed rest.
Tomorrow, we plan to wrap up all the painting here in Sofia. Sunday morning, Pastor Chuck will teach in the Blagavest church here in town, while I will have the privilege of teaching at Elin Pelin. Also, some of the teenagers will come along and get the opportunity to share with the congregation as well. Then, Sunday afternoon we meet with the Sofia teens to plan out our activities for the camp at the Black Sea. Finally, Monday morning we are off on a drive across the country to our week at camp.
Even though our schedule is exhausting and physically strenuous, the team continues to be in great spirits. our group devotional time each morning has been a great time of teaching and sharing and everybody is so excited to see what God is doing. Although our labors around the church have been appreciated, the real ministry has been in our relationships with the people here. It has been so amazing to see our Bulgarian friends blessed, encouraged, and helped by our visit. Truly, the relationships between our church bodies has been edifying for all!
Please continue to pray for the team for strength (physical, emotional, and spiritual). We covet your prayers and are so grateful for those of you that have made time each day to lift us up before the Lord. You probably have no idea how much your prayers are a part of the ministry that is taking place over here but we could not do what we are doing or see what we are seeing without you! We love you and thank you for your support.
Благодаря и слава на Бога!
(Blagodarya ee slava na Boga... Thank you and glory to God!)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Our First Day is Done

It's almost 11pm here and the team is wrapping up its first day. We spent the afternoon painting the Sunday School rooms in the new Blagavest church where we are staying. Tomorrow we will finish up the rooms and Linzi will direct the painting of murals in several classrooms. She will be working with a "Heroes of the Bible" theme and has planned rooms decorated with Noah's ark and Daniel in the lions' den. I will share pictures of her handiwork tomorrow evening.






We also had a great time catching up with (and meeting, for our new crew) old friends. Several people came by to see us here at the church building while we painted and, after painting, we walked over to the nearby apartments where several more live. One friend, Rali, led the way to a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed an amazing traditional Bulgarian meal. We ate, and played, and laughed and just had an incredible time together of food and fellowship.



Tomorrow, it's back to painting and possibly a visit to nearby Elin Pelin to visit Pastor Niki and his wife Sveta. Everybody continues to be in good spirits and we look forward to every opportunity to serve. Keep us in your prayers and especially pray for us to have a servant's heart in all that we do. Good night!

Our First Morning

After a long sleep-in to catch up on our rest, the team has arisen and is getting our day started. Pastor Ludmil has been in to see us and plan out the day. Coffee and food have been consumed, morning devo's done, and in an hour or so we are going to be painting in the new Blagavest church.


Tonight, we are expecting to go visit the gypsy church in Stolnik with Pastor Niki. We're a little worried about transportation since we're about two seats short with the vehicles we've got. We'll figure it out and make it work though. Somebody may end up on somebody's lap!Everybody is in great spirits and we're all just glad to be here... finally! We're ready to hit the ground running and eagerly looking forward to reuniting with the friends we haven't seen yet as well as all the new relationships we'll be building here.

Marinna was asked about her first impressions of Bulgaria and noted that everything is beautiful, "even the dirt." She enjoyed hearing her first Bulgarian speakers as well.









Megan related that our Bulgarian brothers and sisters are very warm. They make you feel very comfortable and "... are your friends as soon as you meet them!"






Richard was struck by the driving here. "California-ish... but worse," is how he described it. He loves the architecture that he observed driving through downtown Sofia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We Made It!

After 30+ hours of travel time, we have finally arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria and are getting settled in. Our flight to Munich, Germany was delayed causing us to miss our connection to Sofia. Seven hours later, we caught the next flight which then sat on the tarmac for another half hour because of bad weather. Finally, though, were here.

We were met at the airport by Vance and a bunch of our Bulgarian friends who helped transport us and our luggage to our rooms. Now that we've reunited with the Robnetts, our team feels whole again. We're staying in an apartment built on the top floor of the new Blagavest church. The rooms are great, and the shower was even greater! We've got wireless internet access, so blog updates should be regular while we are here in Sofia.

However, right now its 1:40 in the morning here (3:40 pm there in BHC) and we're off to bed! Keep praying for us!