Friday, July 8, 2011

Final Days of Camp

I am writing this as Pastor Chuck teaches on the topic of Trust to the entire camp in our evening service. We are sitting outdoors on a covered patio with a cool breeze occasionally blowing in to keep us cool. The kids are worn out from a treasure hunt around town earlier this afternoon, but their attention is still focused on his every word as he challenges them to respond to God's love with obedience.
Tomorrow will be the last full day of camp and we will pack up and leave Sunday morning after breakfast for a seven hour drive back across Bulgaria to Sofia. Our team is fully aware that our time is short and we are making the most of every moment with the kids and the adult leaders from Sofia. We recognize that the relationships we are building here will enable us to continue in ministry even after we are gone, thanks to the Internet.
Most of these kids have Skype, Facebook, e-mail, and cell phones and it is a great joy to know that we have built friendships this week that will endure beyond the camp. Many of us know we will return and look forward to seeing our family here again, but even when we are home in the U.S., we will be in touch and remain a part of their lives. I have expressed over and over to the people here that Bulgaria is not a two week ministry for us, but a year-long opportunity to serve.
Yesterday, Megan, Mayla, and Zach all had the opportunity to teach about Jesus calming the storms in our lives. Joey wrapped up with a message in the evening service on trusting God enough to lay aside the things that separated us from Him. It was exciting to watch the kids respond to the translated message and even more exciting to watch our teens step out in faith and share from the word of God! We also played some great team-building games with the camp and joined them today for a treasure hunt that took us all over Chernomoretz before ending up on the beach, where we found and dug up a treasure trove of chocolate.
Please continue to keep the team in prayer. While you are at it, pray for a couple here at the camp. Ivon and Maya are a married couple from the Blaga Vest church in Sofia who came here with us on Sunday. Monday, they found out that Maya's father had passed away and they had to return to Sofia. They came back to the camp yesterday and, while they are fully engaged in the ministry here, Maya's heart is still heavy with the loss of her father. Please pray for God's peace and comfort for them.
I also want to take a moment to express my appreciation for the people who have supported this ministry. The ten of us are here because of the investment of many. We thank you for believing in what we are doing and, more importantly, what God is doing. God bless you!

P.S.-  There are many more pictures on my Photobucket account!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rainy Day at the Black Sea

Today we saw a typical storm blow in off the coast from the Black Sea followed by scattered showers throughout the day, so no beach. Instead, we enjoyed some free time with the kids in town. It was a bit of a treat to take the day off from the organized (and sometimes, hectic) activities at the beach and instead relax with our friends.
I spent the afternoon with Lidija and Tea, two good friends from Macedonia that I have known for three years now, along with Viki, Kali, and Iva, and Niki from Elin Pelin. Also, George, Simona, and Samuel from Sofia... Many were old friends, some were new. We walked through the village of Chernomoretz for awhile before settling in at a cafe for some cold beverages and good conversation. It was a real joy to share our Christian experiences with each other and to encourage them as Christian teens in an un-Christian nation. Afterwards, we walked down to the coast and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and weather.
These unplanned moments are probably the most valuable in our time here in Bulgaria. It is in these times that our hearts truly connect with the Bulgarian (and Macedonian, in this case) people and we find ourselves ministering to them and being ministered to by them. These are relationships that will be with us for life and I am overjoyed to see how friendships I made in my first two years have blossomed into a relationship that allows me to really make a difference in these lives. Not that the ministry is one way... on the contrary! I am blessed and my life has been changed by these friendships.
Vernon and I were talking today about how difficult it is to express what we experience here to all of you back home. How can we put into words all that we see, hear, and feel when it is so foreign even to us? At the time, we were talking about the culture as a whole... the buildings and roads, personality differences, construction techniques, traditions and habits, etc., but the thought holds true for the work that God is doing here.
I came to Bulgaria three years ago, not so much out of a sense of calling, but to discover for myself what we as a church were doing in this nation. I had heard the reports and seen the pictures, but I couldn't truly understand our purpose here and felt I needed to see for myself. I return now with a true sense of calling, but I struggle to share the experience in a way that will truly allow you to understand what is happening here. I can't put into words the real value of simple things like the friendships and our long-term commitment to these people. The visible ministries you read and hear about are really only the tools we use to get close to the hearts of a people that we love and God loves even more. The real work is done one-on-one or in small groups... not only daily, but year after year.
So please, enjoy the pictures and follow our adventures online... but make it a point to grab one of us for lunch or dinner after we come home and ask us to tell you our story in person. Watch our faces light up as we talk about this place and hear the passion in our voices as we share what God is doing here. Then, pray about what you can do to help us!

Here are some pics of the day to enjoy... More on my Photobucket account.

Mayla helps Samuel with his sand candle

Yanna shows off her candle ready for pouring

Our wax-melting setup... all purchased at a local hardware store

 Megan helps tie on a bandanna

Danitsa builds a picture frame
36 years old and I still play with my food


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Camp Pics

Our second day at camp is coming to an end and we are basking in the presence of God and all that He is doing. We just heard an excellent sermon by Zach on faith from the book of Romans and the kids are blowing off some steam before bed.
Today, we went to the beach for 3 hours in the morning. While there, we are responsible for keeping an eye on the younger children while they swim. Of course, we have fun playing with them as well. We also organize beach games for all 60 of the kids.
This afternoon, several of our team members had the opportunity to teach God's Word in the small group lessons. Joey, Vernon, and Zach all spoke about Peter walking on water in their groups. Then, we organized some team activities, including a rope maze with teams racing against each other to work their way down a rope line, and a game that demonstrated the need to hear God's voice in the middle of all life's distractions.
We are definitely struggling with our energy level as we are operating on about 5 hours of sleep at night. When the kids go to bed at 11, we usually get things done that have to wait for their absence. For instance, each night we hide about 25 small toys all over the camp for the kids to find the next day. Also, one of our team helps the Bulgarian teachers each night to put the kids to bed and then patrol later to make sure they are all still there.
Even though we are tired, it is such a blessing to see God working in these kids lives. The teachings have spoken to many of them, but more importantly, the Holy Spirit is speaking through us in the one-on-one conversations that are so critical to what we do here. Please keep us in prayer that we would be led by the Spirit in our time with the kids and that God would speak, not only to us, but through us.
Слава на Бога!

Monday, July 4, 2011

First Day At Camp

We just wrapped up our first full day of camp and it was a great one. It wasn't our day to teach the lessons, so we got to observe and take part in the Bulgarian teachers' lessons and see how they interact with their kids. Tomorrow, our team will teach so pray for Joey, Vernon, Zach and Linzi as they share tomorrow.
Tonight, I taught in the main service on the need for our faith to be demonstrated through our works (James 2). It was a joy to share God's word on the other side of the planet, even if its a little tricky through an interpreter.
Our team also handled the crafts today. We had each of the kids paint a t-shirt with the Bulgarian word for "trust" (the camp theme) on it. Then, they made a necklace with a sea theme. The shirts were great and I will share pictures tomorrow.
Pastor Chuck and Lynda delayed their arrival one more day to spend more time in Gabrovo but will join us in the morning. Keep the team in prayer and God bless!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

We're At the Black Sea!

The boys having fun on the charter bus to the Black Sea
Greetings Bullhead City and all parts America! Today, we arose at five in the morning and boarded a charter bus for Chernomoretz on the Black Sea. The 7-hour journey took us across the entire country of Bulgaria to its eastern coast in a bus filled with excited, sugar crazed kids, many of which speak hardly any English yet managed to communicate with us the entire way. We drove in rain for the majority of the way, and it is pouring down at the camp as I speak.
Rain, rain, go away...

We have arrived safely at the camp on the Black Sea where, after a short walk to the beach with the kids, we returned for dinner and the evening service. Worship was led by one of the Bulgarian women on guitar and Roy and I had the opportunity to accompany her on percussion instruments. The theme of the camp this week is Trusting in God, and Niki Dragonov of the Blaga Vest church delivered an opening message on the theme from the life of Abraham.

Please keep the camp in prayer, especially for the weather. Many of our planned activities are outdoor events so we need clear skies. Pray for the team as each of us will be teaching God's word throughout the week, as well as coordinating and participating in other activities.

Also, pray for Pastor Chuck and Lynda as they travel to the camp from Gabrovo tomorrow. God bless!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Pics From Our First Few Days In Sofia

Today was a laid back day before heading out to the Black Sea tomorrow. Pastor Chuck and Lynda spent the morning with the pastor at Elin Pelin, Niki, and his wife Tsveta while the rest of the team ventured into Sofia's City Center to play tourist.
We met up with Kenne, a longer-term missionary here from our church in Bullhead City, and some of our Bulgarian friends and visited several sites important to Bulgarian culture, including the Alexander Nevski Cathedral, home to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. We also observed their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and posed with the guards at the Presidential Palace. Most importantly, we visited our favorite fireworks store to pick up... ummm, supplies... for the camp but, alas, they no longer sell fireworks! What is this city coming too?!
We met back at the new Blaga Vest church building this afternoon for a meeting with all of the Bulgarian leaders for the Black Sea camp. We discussed details and assigned our team to various roles to assist with the camp. It was great to be reacquainted with so many dear friends and we look forward to the week ahead serving with them.
After walking to another traditional Bulgarian dinner at a nearby restaurant, we are now dropping off to sleep one by one to the sound of pouring rain outside our windows. Tomorrow morning, we rise at 5am to meet the camp group downtown and ride the bus with the children on a 7 hour trip to the town of Chernomoretz on the Black Sea, on the eastern coast of Bulgaria.
Pastor Chuck and Lynda will remain behind as Chuck will be teaching the message at Blaga Vest for their Sunday service. Then, they will travel to meet with a friend in another town, Gabrovo. They will join us at the camp on Monday.
I am posting some pics for your enjoyment, but there are many more on my Photobucket account. Enjoy and God Bless!

-Pastor Mike

P.S.- Linzi is also posting video clips from the team on her blog at:

Roy shares from the Word with the Elin Pelin church

Linzi and Megan with Iva and Kali of Elin Pelin

Our team with the Elin Pelin congregation

Roy's reaction to boza, a traditional Bulgarian drink

Megan viciously attacks her youth group leader, Zach

Vernon and Roy at Alexander Nevski Cathedral

The girls pose with the guards at the Presidential Palace

Street performers at the Metro station (subway)

Graffiti representing our hometown... BHC, What?!

A Romani (gypsy) collecting scraps in Sofia

Taking a break in downtown Sofia

"What?! You have no more kebapchete?"

Dinner with our family from Elin Pelin

Friday, July 1, 2011

Visit With Elin Pelin

[Note: Due to technical difficulties with the Internet access here, this is being posted at 9 AM on Saturday morning AFTER a good night's sleep!]

It's a little after 1 AM Saturday morning, and the team is just returning to our flat and preparing to go to bed. We're all still a bit amped up from an amazing evening with the Bozhe Sila church in Elin Pelin. We joined them for their Friday evening service and Pastor Niki turned the pulpit over to Pastor Chuck while his wife, Tsveta, translated for the Bulgarians. Our pastor shared a powerful message on living a life worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) that ministered not only to the church, but the team as well.
Following the sermon, Pastor Niki invited the rest of the team to also share with the body. It was incredible to see the Holy Spirit lead the group as, one by one, each of us shared a word from the Lord that not only spoke to the congregation but was in complete sync with what every other team member was sharing. In the past, when the teams have been given an opportunity to share, they usually bring a greeting from the Bullhead City church and share a bit of their testimony. Tonight, however, each one of us had a more in-depth word of exhortation or encouragement that all tied together to really speak a unified message to the body. It was a blessing to see how the Holy spirit works through a people surrendered to, and dependent on, Him.
After the service, we hung out at the church and talked for awhile. At Elin Pelin, a rural town outside Sofia, a good number of the brothers and sisters speak little or no English, but the spirit of fellowship truly overcomes the language barrier and we had some good, meaningful conversations with a very limited vocabulary. I had the pleasure of spending time with Victor, a new believer who has only been a Christian for two months. It was a joy to listen to his experiences as a baby Christian and to offer advice and encourage him in his walk with the Lord.
We finally headed out of the church and drove to a nearby restaurant where a number of the Elin Pelin congregation treated us to dinner. We enjoyed a traditional Bulgarian meal of shopska (tomato and cucumber salad with feta cheese), kyufte (flavorful sausage patties), and french fries covered in feta cheese. For dessert, we shared plates of crepes covered in chocolate sauce and whipped cream. We learned that today was Victor's birthday so we sang "Happy Birthday" to him loudly Calvary Bullhead style to everyone's delight!
After being filled spiritually and physically, we called it a night and headed back to home base in Sofia. Tomorrow, we meet with the team from the Blaga Vest church in Sofia to plan final details for the Black Sea camp on Sunday. Keep us in prayer and give God thanks for the great things He is already doing!

 Leka nosht! (Good night)

[P.S. - Once we get our internet issues sorted out here, I will post lots of pictures.]

Thursday, June 30, 2011

We're Here!

Several Bulgarian teams hang out with the team
Well, 25 hours after driving away from Bullhead City, we've arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria and are settling in at the apartment in the new Blaga Vest church. We're grateful to Pastor Ludmil for providing accommodations for us!
The flights were long but uneventful and the team is in great spirits and excited about getting to work.
We're looking at possibly visiting the Romani church at Stolnik this evening and Elin Pelin tomorrow with Pastor Niki and his wife Tsveta. Saturday is still up in the air, but Sunday morning we will leave for the Black Sea for the week-long kids camp at Chernomoretz.
Keep us in prayer for direction, strength, and health while we serve God and the  Church in Bulgaria for the next two weeks! God Bless...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Last Minute Preparations

We finished up Vacation Bible School at our church last night, and I feel like I can finally switch my brain into full-on Bulgaria mode. Of course, Bulgaria is always in the back of my mind, even when I'm not planning to go there soon, but now I have switched it fully to the front of my mind! The past few weeks have been a challenge for me because, while I am eager to return to Bulgaria and want to devote my time and energy to preparing for and thinking about our upcoming trip, I still have other work that the Lord has put before me here.
I had to forcibly switch my brain into junior high mode for our summer camp last week, then reset and switch into VBS mode to serve as a teacher this week. As I did so, it was exciting to see how God's plan for us is so multi-faceted. We aren't called into one single niche area of ministry, but God's plan for us unfolds across a wide spectrum. The gifts and talents He blesses us with shouldn't be locked down for use in only a small area of service, but opened up and used abundantly wherever the need presents itself. It has been humbling for me to realize how much God wants to do and how little I would do if left to choose. I know many of us on the team felt stretched this week as we served in the Vacation Bible School with our upcoming trip looming. Yet each of us was blessed to see God working in the lives of the young children and we all feel honored that God used us, each in our own way, to serve them.
Now, however, our gaze is firmly fixed on the task at hand... and the task is Bulgaria. There is still much to do and little time to do it!

Each of us is allowed to pack our own clothing and personal items in only half a suitcase. That leaves the other half for supplies for the camp we will be helping with at the Black Sea. On Sunday, we'll meet together with our suitcases and divvy up the shared supplies. We are taking 90 t-shirts for all the children and Bulgarian leaders at the camp, along with craft supplies, decorations, food, games, and more.
In the past, we were allowed two suitcases: one for ourselves and one for supplies. Now, the airlines charge a hefty fee for the second suitcase, so we are downsizing! A little Tide-to-Go and a sink means we only need half the clothing we usually take.

Every team member will have the opportunity to teach the word of God while we are there. Pastor Chuck will be sharing in several churches. Most of the team will be teaching lessons to the children at camp at least once. Our women will probably attend a bible study in Sofia and share there. Also, we will have numerous opportunities to share our testimonies and God's word in one-on-one and small group settings throughout the visit. Many of us are still preparing our notes for the teaching we will be doing and trusting God to give us His words when the time comes. Our newcomers will also have to learn how to deliver their message through an interpreter, which completely changes the dynamics!

Most of the money for our trip has been raised. There are a few team members still struggling though, so if you know anyone who is going and want to help, ask them if they have a need. We are also raising money to sponsor some of the Romani (gypsy) children so they can attend the camp with us.

The trip is long, and once we arrive, the schedule is fast-paced and frenetic. Its important that each of us arrive healthy and strong. Many of us have been taking Vitamin C & D, along with echinacea for the last few days to build up our immune systems before going. We're also enjoying some quality family time with the loved ones we're leaving behind.

Please keep the team in prayer as we get ready for our departure. Pray for our last minute needs, that God would clearly direct the lessons we are preparing, and for rest and good health. And, once we're gone, keep us in prayer for the work in Bulgaria and visit this blog for daily updates on what God is doing there!
Слава на Бога!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Getting Close

Our departure date is almost upon us and, with everything else going on with the church as well, the time is sure to fly by! Zach and Linzi return from the high school summer camp today, along with Megan, and Megan and I return next week for the junior high camp. The following week will be our church's Vacation Bible School. Then, we've got the weekend and a few days and we're off to Vegas to catch a plane! Somewhere in there, we all have to finish up the lessons we'll be teaching and pack our suitcases, along with all the supplies we'll be bringing for the camp at the Black Sea. Some of us also have gifts to buy for friends in Bulgaria and things to take care of for the families we're leaving behind. Keep us in prayer for these next few weeks as we scramble to wrap it all up.

Megan and Marinna paint at Blaga Vest
I also want to share a little about our schedule once we're there. We will arrive on Thursday, about noon, and will be met by friends from the Blaga Vest (Good News) church in Sofia. We will probably grab a bite to eat and head over to where we are staying. Pastor Ludmil and the Blaga Vest congregation have been constructing a new church building for some time now and they have built an apartment into the top floor for visiting missionaries and the like. They graciously allow us to stay there while we are in Sofia. Each year, we have been honored to help with the church construction, which is being done by the congregation as finances allow. We have helped with painting, cleanup, washing newly installed windows, pulling weeds... anywhere we can be useful.

On Friday and/or Saturday, we will travel to Elin Pelin, a nearby town outside
The Romani congregation at Stol
Sofia. There, we will meet with Pastor Niki and his wife Tsveta and their church. We are also hoping to go with them to Stolnik, a nearby Romani (gypsy) village where Niki also pastors a small flock. Spending time with the Romani is a blessing that comes with a burden, as the gypsies are very economically disadvantaged and highly discriminated against in Bulgaria and throughout Europe. I have written previously about the challenges they face, but it is such an honor to be sent by the Lord to reach out to these people in love. We are also hoping to have some opportunity to bless Niki and Tsveta with some manual labor from our team to help with some improvements as well.

Sunday morning, we will depart from Sofia (on the western side of Bulgaria) for the Black Sea (on the far eastern edge). We will meet up with the church downtown where they will load a charter bus full of all the kids and we will begin our 7-hour trek across the country. Driving in Bulgaria is always exciting (no, really... VERY exciting) and the countryside is absolutely beautiful. Nothing compares to the view of fields of sunflowers stretching for miles!

Joey teaches a lesson at the Black
Once we arrive in Chernomoretz, on the Black Sea, we'll spend the next six days pouring our hearts into about 60 kids of all ages. Our team will work with the Bulgarian teachers to teach bible lessons on the theme of trusting God, as well as doing arts and crafts, teambuilding exercises, supervising kids during the daily beach time, and much more. The days are long but fulfilling!

On the following Sunday, we'll make the drive back across the country to Sofia. We'll spend the next couple of days with the Blagavest church, helping where we can. Our ladies usually participate in a bible study for women at the Truth and Hope Foundation, and we'll get some shopping and sightseeing in as well. Finally, we'll head to the airport for the long flight back home!

While there, I'll be posting blog updates as often as possible. We have internet access while in Sofia, so expect daily updates on the front and back ends of the trip, but at the Black Sea, we have to walk into the town and visit an Internet cafe. We'll shoot for daily updates, but it may be hit and miss. Our updates will include thoughts from different team members every day. Linzi is planning on doing a video blog as well, which we'll post here.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers while we're gone. Also, pray about whether God would call you to return with us next year. God bless!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Learning To Serve

Last night, most of the team drove down to Needles to wait tables for the Needles High School senior banquet. We were paid for our services, but the event wasn't really a fundraiser. Instead, we saw it as an opportunity to learn and practice our ability to serve.
Probably the most important ability a team member can take to Bulgaria is the ability to serve unconditionally, with no thought for self. In essence, we go to make ourselves slaves to the Church there, willing to do whatever they need or want us to do.
Last night, we served in a comfortable, air-conditioned room for a few short hours and went home exhausted! In just a handful of weeks, we will be serving from early in the morning to late at night, without air conditioning, on a strange diet, while missing our families. It is important that we are prepared to do so with, not only a smile, but true joy radiating from each of us.
I told the group last night, "We are not here to make money or to have fun... although we will do a little of both! We are here to serve." It's essential that we are properly motivated and clearly understand the task before us in going to Bulgaria. This will not be a vacation. We are not going primarily for US... to have a great time, do something cool over the summer, get some experience, etc. We are going because God has sent us to be His hands and feet to the Church He loves over there. When God is done working for them, we can be done...
In the meantime, may God give us hearts to genuinely serve... not for ourselves, or even for those we are serving... but for Him! May we do so gracefully and joyfully, setting aside our own emotions, wants, and needs to care for the needs of others.

Слава на Бога!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yard Sale This Weekend!

Friday and Saturday, May 6-7
7am to Noon
Calvary Chapel Bullhead City
1690 Newberry Drive 

This weekend, we're kicking off our second yard sale of the year to raise funds for our team's travel expenses. Our last yard sale raised about $2000 and we're hoping to do as well or better this weekend.

We've got some great stuff that the church family has donated to the cause, including: furniture, appliances, electronics, clothing, and much, much more! Thanks to everybody who shared out of their abundance...

We'll be doing pickups this afternoon, so if you have stuff to donate give the church a call and we can swing by to pick it up.

God bless and hope to see you this weekend!

Monday, May 2, 2011

More Team Changes

Well, our team has shrunk a bit but we're pretty set in stone now so there should be no more changes. We were unable to book a group rate on the flights we needed, which usually allows us to reserve a block of tickets without committing to a firm number until much closer to departure. Since the group deal wasn't available, we had to purchase tickets immediately to lock in pricing and get the whole team on the same flights. As a result, we had to nail down exactly who was going, which required a firm commitment and ability to pay from everyone. Several members weren't able to make that happen at this date, but we've purchased tickets for the ones that are 100% on board. The final team roster is:
  • Pastor Chuck Kelly
  • Lynda Kelly
  • Pastor Mike Kern
  • Megan Kern
  • Joey Leslie
  • Zach Drew
  • Linzi Drew
  • Vernon Garrett
  • Roy Garret
  • Mayla Truncali
We're eight weeks out from departure and getting more excited every day! We're also still pushing forward in our fundraising, with deadlines in the middle of May and June that we each have to meet.
With that in mind, we'll be having our next big yard sale this weekend, so if you're in the Bullhead City area, stop by on Friday or Saturday from 7am to noon. We've got some great stuff donated by the local church body so spread the word!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Loving the Unlovable

Pastor Chuck spoke at church yesterday morning about the Romani (gypsy) people. Although the term "gypsy" is commonly used to describe these people, the term is actually considered derogatory by many of them. The Romani (also Roma, or Rom) are a distinct ethnic group that have no country of that own. As a nomadic culture, they spread throughout Europe and other parts of the world. They usually do not assimilate into the cultures they live within, but maintain a distinct subculture wherever they are. As a result, the Romani are generally not well accepted by their neighbors. They face discrimination and prejudice as a rule throughout Europe, and certainly in Bulgaria.
Their poor reputation is not completely undeserved. Most of the Romani live in abject poverty, partly due to discrimination in hiring, but also partly because of the Rom peoples' own unwillingness to participate in the economies of their host countries. Especially in the formerly Communist nations of Eastern Europe, the group became accustomed to having their basic needs provided for by the State with no responsibility on their part. They have had a hard time adjusting to the capitalist system and still rely heavily on government assistance. Many wed young and begin having children to increase their subsidy from the State. The people live in in communities called mahalas in crowded and unsanitary conditions. Crime and illiteracy are high.

The Romani of Bulgaria are no different. According to the 2001 census, the Roma accounted for nearly 5% of the nation's population, giving Bulgaria the highest percentage of Roma for any European country. However, the ethnic group does not actively cooperate with the census efforts and other data sources, including the social assistance offices and other polls, indicate a population as high as 10% of the nation may be Romani. However, it is estimated that more than 80% of their working age population is unemployed. Their children are technically given the right to the same education as all other children in Bulgaria. However, in practice, the school's built in Romani neighborhoods and villages are typically in bad physical condition and lacking materials and equipment such as computers, desks, books, etc. Also, Roma children are often sent to special schools for students with learning disabilities or behavior problems. Only 6-12% of Roma teenagers enroll in secondary education (age 16-19). Illiteracy is extremely high among children and adults.

From the perspective of many Bulgarians and other Europeans, the "gypsies" are known as thieves and liars, lazy and violent, a drain on society's resources and the source of climbing crime statistics. Lurid tales are told of fathers prostituting their own daughters and stealing their neighbors' livestock. Unfortunately, many of these stereotypes have a valid basis of truth. The Romani are a hurting and broken people with little hope for change. There are very few opportunities to advance beyond their meager existence, and the Rom who do manage to rise up face hostility from their own friends and family who see them as abandoning their people.

The only hope for the Romani people is Jesus Christ! They need to know the love of God and the life-changing power of His Spirit. But how shall they hear without a preacher? The Church has a responsibility to take the gospel message to the Romani people. We have a mandate from the Lord Himself to go into their mahalas and preach the gospel. We must demonstrate His love and power to a people who need it desperately. We must disciple them, teaching them God's Word and how to live it.

I know this will be difficult. Many in the Bulgarian churches are still wrestling with their own deep-seated cultural prejudices and grievances against the Roma. They are laboring to reach their own fellow Bulgarians who are mired in the spiritual indifference bred by Communism. They struggle to believe that the "gypsies" can ever change. Many Romani have, in fact, joined Christian churches in their communities yet continue to live the ungodly lifestyles inherent in their culture. Many have been "burned" trying to help the Roma and are afraid to venture into that territory again.

We know their struggle. It came to me yesterday, as I discussed these thoughts with Pastor Chuck, that our own community in Bullhead City has similar issues. We have in our town a subculture of drugs, alcohol, and domestic violence that many feel are a hopeless case. Good Christian people that go to church every Sunday shy away from these people as if they were diseased. We make our arguments about safety and explain how a drug addict has no power to kick their habit and change and a host of other reasons why the "trailer trash" of our city is a lost cause. Yet our church is filled with those who were delivered out of this very culture... former drug addicts, alcoholics, violent abusers, all set free by the message of the cross! New creations in Christ Jesus! We cannot afford to avoid the very people we are called to reach. Our God is not willing that any should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance.

As we overcome our own prejudices and fears to reach out to the darker elements of our own community, let us also pray for our Bulgarian brothers and sisters that God would use them to bring His love and power to the people rejected by their culture. May God's love for all of Bulgaria be demonstrated by the Church's love for the unlovable. Let us seek the heart of Christ for the people He cares for.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:28

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Bulgarian Experience This Sunday

This Sunday (April 10), Pastor Chuck and Lynda will be joining us in our church service at Calvary Chapel BHC to share their experiences from their current trip to Bulgaria. Wait, they're back?! No, they'll still be in BG this weekend, but will join us via Skype over the Internet. 10am for us is 8pm for them, so they'll be wrapping up their Sunday with our church body after beginning it in a Bulgarian church. What a great day!

Aafter church, we will be serving up some traditional Bulgarian food to the church body. We want our church family to experience a bit of the culture we love so much, and we'll be raising funds for our upcoming trip.

On the menu, we'll start things off with a grilled kebapche dog. The seasoned blend of ground pork and beef will be grilled and served up with a traditional garnish, lyutenitsa, on a hot dog bun. The bun isn't traditional, but for the more timid eaters, you can imagine you're eating a hot dog!

Each year we typically enjoy a cookout with our friends from the church in Elin Pelin. Along with kufte, another meat sausage, this is one of the things they feed us... and feed us, and feed us!

We'll add a splash of color to the plate with a side of shopska. This refreshing salad combines chopped tomatoes and cucumber with oil and vinegar. The whole dish is topped with sirene, Bulgaria's famous feta cheese made from sheep's milk. Not only do we eat this with the Elin Pelin church, but we typically make a big bowl of this in our living quarters to go with our other meals.

Speaking of sirene, we'll also be sprinkling some atop french fries, a snack we enjoy often while we're there. The sharp, tangy cheese perfectly complements the salty fries.

Finally, we'll sweeten your palate with a tasty bit of pumpkin banitsa.  Traditional banitsa is a light puff pastry and egg concoction filled with more of the sirene cheese. We'll be serving a variation filled with pumpkin instead.

Here in America, this would be considered more of a breakfast food, but in BG, every time is banitsa time! We often buy banitsa in downtown Sofia from sidewalk vendors or small cafes.

Bring your appetites and whatever donation the Lord puts on your heart to give. We're excited about this opportunity to share a taste of Bulgaria with you!

Speaking of food, don't forget to grab a flyer for the Rutherford Family Restaurant from one of our team members when you see them. Roy's mother is an owner of the restaurant and they have generously agreed to give 10% of the ticket price to our team's travel fund when you dine there and give them the flyer. The food is great and you can help our team meet our financial need while you enjoy it!

By the way, we've added one more team member... Todd Miller has joined our group and we're so excited to have him on the team! Keep him in prayer and look for God to do great things in his life through this experience.

God bless all of you for your prayer and support!

Ние ви обичаме!
(We love you!) 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Team Meetings

Добре дошли (Dobre doshli... "Welcome")!

Our team has grown again with the addition of Jordan Hunt (who has been to BG several times before) and Chelsea King, one of our high schoolers who will be going for her first time. We are excited to have both of them! Jordan has experience and will be building on existing relationships with our Bulgarian friends. Chelsea has a real heart to serve and and a youthful excitement that will bring energy and joy to the team.

Our team of thirteen is now meeting regularly on Wednesday evenings before church to prepare for our trip. The meetings are every other week for now, but will switch to weekly as we get closer. We take the time to prepare everyone in a number of areas, but also to grow closer to each other so that we are already functioning as a team before we even leave the country. To foster discussions, we will be working through a journal together entitled, "Before You Pack Your Bag, Prepare Your Heart," a tool we have found useful and challenging in years past.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Successful Yard Sale

We held our first team fundraiser this past weekend with a church yard sale on Friday and Saturday (March 4-5). We want to extend a huge "Thank You" to everyone in the church who donated their stuff for us to sell. We had a huge selection of clothing, furniture, electronics, appliances, housewares and more! We're also grateful to all of you that came out and supported us by buying other people's stuff.

The yard sale was a huge success, making over $1300 for the weekend. Each of the team members that helped run the sale made over $100 each day toward the $2000 they need to raise for our trip to Bulgaria. The weekend was a great start!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

We're Going Back to Bulgaria This Year!

Praise God! The Lord has raised up a team and we are returning to Bulgaria this summer after taking last year off. We have a group of ten that are committed to going as the Lord provides and we have begun to work together as a team to prepare for our trip.

The group this year includes Pastor Chuck and Lynda Kelly, Zach and Linzi Drew, Joey Leslie, myself (Pastor Mike Kern) and my daughter Megan, Roy Garrett, Brijon Ortiz, and Mayla Truncali. Please keep all of us and our families in prayer.