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.]