Saturday, August 11, 2012

Praying For a Declining Church

I am going to try and post something on a weekly basis here, now that I've had some time to get back into the routine of life back home and process this year's trip. This year was exciting as we saw some breakthroughs in significant areas. Before I get into that though, its important to understand why we go to Bulgaria every year in the first place.

We are not a missions team in the traditional sense. We are not evangelists sent over to win the nation of Bulgaria for Jesus. In fact, the idea is somewhat preposterous. Our small team giving up two weeks a year is not going to make a dent in the evangelistic needs of the country. The nation certainly needs to hear the gospel, but the work must be done by committed, full-time witnesses who live and work among them. Should the Lord ever call me and my wife to such a life, I would gladly obey and move there because that's what it would take.

However, there already is a Church in Bulgaria tasked with the Great Commission of reaching their nation for Christ. They have the message of the gospel and the language to communicate it in. Unfortunately, the Church is small and shrinking in Bulgaria* and it is our privilege to come alongside support them in any way we can. We are a Servant Team and our primary role is to encourage and strengthen our brothers and sisters in their fight for the land God is giving them.
* According to census data, Protestant Christianity has shrunk from 3% of the population to 1.5%.

I have given much thought and prayer to the reasons for the erosion of Christianity in Bulgaria and want to share my perspective on this. It is not my heart to offend any of my Bulgarian brothers and sisters, who love the Lord dearly and are often doing the best they know how. Part of the problem, as I see it, is a lack of active, concerted and ongoing evangelism from the Body of Christ.

  • Active: Much of the evangelism I have seen in Bulgaria is passive. Subtle references to God and spiritual issues, casual invitations to attend church, unwillingness to participate in ungodly activities... All of these are good but not enough. We are told to let our light shine before men. This light should be bright and intense, not dimmed and veiled. We must be able to boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel, not only in actions, but in words backed up by our actions.
  • Concerted: The Body of Christ is strongest when it works together. Evangelism should be a corporate function of the church family, something done in fellowship together as our primary purpose. The Church was not simply created as a place for Christians to hang out together apart from the world, but as a symbol of hope and life-changing power for the world to see clearly.
  • Ongoing: Sharing the good news of Christ's plan for salvation must become a regular part of who we are as Christians. A follower of Christ should find themselves talking about Him without even thinking about it! We must share the gospel at every opportunity, even if it costs us.
This seems self-evident to many of us American Christians. The American Church was born in an era of personal rights and freedom. We have always had the right to exercise and proclaim our faith without opposition from our government. Our history is full of street preachers and fiery evangelists, tent crusades drawing tens of thousands, and the personal freedom to share the gospel whenever and wherever we want. Its easy to look elsewhere and wonder why others are not so overtly evangelistic, but to do so would be hypocritical.

We have more freedom than anyone to share Christ, yet we do so less often than many Christians in persecuted countries like China and the Sudan. We have the right to preach the gospel, but how many of us have ever stood in a crowd and proclaimed the name of Jesus? "Well, that's just crazy and would turn people off!" Maybe... or maybe it just makes us uncomfortable to even think of doing something like that. After all, it worked in the New Testament and it still works all over the world. God's word clearly states that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are dying in their sin. I think many of us just don't want to look like fools to the world. For that matter, how many of us go weeks (or even longer) at a time without telling someone about Jesus in a simple one-on-one conversation?

My point is, we are in no position to lecture anybody on evangelism. Our Church family in Bulgaria has only recently been delivered from the oppression of Communism, when overt evangelism led to certain persecution. Before that, the Church was oppressed by their Turkish occupiers who also fought against Christianity. The fact is, it has never been easy for a Bulgarian Christian to boldly share Christ with unbelievers. It has always cost them to do so.

However, as a brother in Christ who loves the Bulgarian people, my heart breaks at the fact that a huge percentage of them do not know Jesus Christ personally and have not given their lives to Him. The simple fact is, nothing will change that but the Church stepping out in boldness and sharing the good news of the gospel with as many people as possible.

Romans 10:14  How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed. And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?

Bulgaria is a nation of unbelievers who need to hear about Jesus. My prayer is for God to raise up preachers among the men and women of the Church. Bulgaria does not simply need more pastors. Pastors preach their sermons in churches. Most unbelievers will never come to a church to hear about God. Bulgaria, and America, need preachers... followers of Christ who will simply share what they know to anybody who will listen... Anywhere... Any time!

To my beloved family in Bulgaria: I love you with all my heart. I cry for you and the struggle you face. I know you have it much harder there than we do here in America. But God's Great Commission has not changed. Your nation must be reached with the gospel if they are to be saved and you are the ones to reach them. Be strong and courageous. Be bold in your witness. You may face persecution, you may be mocked and ridiculed, you may simply be ignored. But you cannot afford to be quiet!

Acts 4:13  Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Home, Sweet Home!

We're back everyone! Gonna be sharing with our family at Calvary Bullhead this weekend and catching up on some much needed rest.

Stay tuned to this blog as we start planning soon for next year's trip! If you're interested in going with us, drop me a message...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Heading Home

Our time in Bulgaria is drawing to a close. Last night, we returned to Elin Pelin for a final service with our dear family there. Vernon, Joey, Roy, Linzi, and me all shared a bit with the church and, of course, our sister Christina fed us until we couldn't breathe!

Today, we took the public transportation into the city and spent some time as tourists in a new mall with a group of the teenagers from here. This evening, we returned and joined the Blaga Vest church for their evening service. After a joyful time of worship through music, I shared a message from Colossians 1. We stayed afterward for a sweet time of fellowship with the church before heading upstairs to clean and pack.

The team is drifting off to sleep and we're up early in the morning to head to the airport for the flight home. We have a 22 hour trip ahead of us so keep us in prayer. Bullhead City, see you soon!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

God is Faithful in Fakulteta

A shy gypsy girl watches us from the doorway
Today, we spent several hours in Fakulteta. The Roma (gypsy) people account for 10-15% of the population of Bulgaria but are considered an unwelcome minority within the culture and treated as such. The majority of them live in isolated villages or, within the cities, in large ghettos known as mahalas. Fakulteta, located here in the capital city of Sofia, is the second largest mahala in Bulgaria and holds at least 40,000 Roma in an area of several square miles.

Please consider reading my post from last year that offers a more in-depth look at the Roma culture within Bulgaria and the struggles they face here. Also, a photojournalist named Cinzia Dambrosi offers an incredible visual look at the culture in his photo blog.

I believe the gypsies of Bulgaria offer the greatest possibility for revival in this country. They are unloved and uneducated, with little hope for their lives apart from Christ. Sin has corrupted their culture, leading to rampant alcoholism and drug use, crime, and prostitution. For all that, they are ripe for the message of the gospel and power of God to change lives and cultures. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound!

Roy and Brijon walk past a home
Today was more exploratory than anything. We had no concrete plans or expectations but have known that the Lord was calling us to this place for some time. We came with a handful of tracts outlining the gospel message, a bagful of candy, a guitar, our bibles and lots of prayer. As we turned the corner and entered Fakulteta, the change was remarkable. We left behind a modern city of concrete and glass and entered a third-world ghetto that reminded me of the worst neighborhoods in Mexico. It was eerie to walk their streets while still hearing the Sofia traffic only blocks away and seeing jets fly low overhead toward the airport.

Praying together in a Fakulteta church
Simona sharing in Bulgarian
From the first moment, God had His hand on today. We brought along three Bulgarian friends: Simona and Teddy (sisters) and Emi. None of them had ever done anything like this before and, although nervous, were excited to come along and be used by God. As we exited our vehicles parked just outside the area, Simona began to ask some of the residents about any churches in Fakulteta. After talking with two others unsucessfully, a woman walked up to her smiling and introduced herself as Lilia. She was a Christian and walked us into the community and down a street to her church... named Jehovah Jireh. The pastor was away, but we were greeted by his son, Assen, and welcomed into their church building where we talked for some time. Afterward, we prayed with several women from the congregation that came to see the Americans and continued on our journey.

Roy leads worship
Linzi shares candy and love with kids
We began handing out candy to children and the gospel message to the adults we encountered. Before long, our Bulgarian friends began stepping out on their own, sharing the love of Christ with strangers... gypsies. What a blessing for us to see them taking a step that is quite radical in their culture! One crowd, after hearing that we were Christians brought several children, including a newborn baby boy, to be prayed over by us. They were believers as well and we embraced as brothers and sisters in Christ. Further down the street, Roy used his guitar to lead our entire group in a worship song that drew a small group of people to share with.

Three cultures join in prayer
We continued to pray for the Lord's leading and several streets later found ourselves in front of an even smaller church than the first one. The pastor, Nayden Borisov, was out front with a small group of people and eagerly welcomed us into his church building after hearing who we were. After hearing about their ministry with neglected children and sharing our desire to serve the Bulgarian gypsies, we joined hands together and prayed. Then, Roy played another worship song accompanied by one of the Romani on a drum as we all sang together. When we finished, the church exploded into a worship song of their own. The gypsy music and singing style was completely different than the worship we have experienced in the Bulgarian churches. The presence of the Lord filled the place as we blended our two cultures together in worship!

Impromptu worship service
We came with no plan, but the Lord had one for us. We shared Christ with a people in need, we contacted and encouraged two Roma pastors, and we were able to demonstrate practical evangelism to several Bulgarian teens and see them grow spiritually today. God is truly good!

Please keep the Roma people of Bulgaria in prayer. They need to experience true revival borne out of repentance that will change their culture from within. God wants to heal their brokenness and we are so blessed to be a part of His work among them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Back in Sofia!

My apologies for the  lack of update for the last day and a half. Yesterday, we left the camp at the Black Sea and drove back across Bulgaria to Sofia. With the packing and traveling, we didn't have much time, or energy, for writing. :-)

Breaking bread with the family of Christ from three nations
Last night, we took a group of friends out for dinner at a local pizza restaurant. In addition to several teenagers from the Blaga Vest church who live nearby, we were also joined by the Goshev family. Mite (pronounced Mee - tay) Goshev pastors a Blaga Vest church in Skopje, Macedonia a few hours from here. His daughters, Lidija and Ani, have been attending camps with us four about 8 years now and are good friends of ours.

The Church in Macedonia is much smaller and faces unique struggles in their mission to reach the nation for Christ. They have a large, and growing, Muslim population along with the traditional Orthodoxy that prevails in Bulgaria. Also, like Bulgaria, Protestant Christianity is seen as a fringe sect to be alienated. The church there needs our prayers and support. Pastor Mite is a loving, joyful man with a real heart for his people and we have been blessed by our relationship with him!

Today, we embark on a new adventure. We will be going to Fakulteta, a Roma (gypsy) mahala of several square miles in Sofia filled with about 40,000 Roma people. The living conditions in these ghettos throughout eastern Europe are way below the standard of the people around them. They live with illiteracy and unemployment rates above 70% and are seen as outcasts by the rest of society. But God loves them!! And so do we.
For pictures and more info on the Roma of Fakulteta visit the blog of photojournalist Cinzia Dambrosi.
We have no plans or expectations for today. We are going to see what God will do and to learn more about this area for future ministry opportunities. Please be praying for the Lord to lead us and for opportunities to share His love with a people who desperately need it. I'll post pictures and an update this evening (morning in the US). God bless and see you soon, Arizona!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Update from Megan

Hiking near Sofia with Stevie, Itzo and Zhoro
Hey Everyone, this is Megan. I'm very excited to be sharing with you my experiences from this trip. This year I was given a unique opportunity to come to Bulgaria two weeks early. It was a really awesome time for me. I got to spend time with some old friends, and it was really amazing to be able to fellowship with them in a completely new way. Normally, I only get to hang out with friends for a brief time during the busy schedule of our team, but on this trip I got to really focus on enjoying the relationships God has given me with a few of the people here in Bulgaria.

Making new friends in the gypsy village of Stolnik
I also got to attend my first ever Blaga Vest service, and that was really awesome for me. One of my favorite things was being able to sing along in Bulgarian to the worship songs. I can read the language, so any time they have words projected I get to worship God in a foreign language.

The first two weeks of my trip were really awesome, and since the rest of the team arrived I have been a lot busier, but I'm very happy to be serving alongside them. I've been in Bulgaria for almost a month now, and I have loved every day. It's wonderful to be at my home away from home.

Tour of the Camp

Hey everyone... Roy and I recorded a quick little video to show you the camp where we spend a week on the Black Sea. We've included a short tour of our bungalow where we four guys are living. Hope you enjoy!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Treasure Hunting at the Black Sea

Moni (blindfolded) is led up the street by his team
Today, we put on an epic adventure for the kids at the Black Sea camp where we are serving. We organized a treasure hunt that sent four teams out of the camp and across the town of Chernomorets to take part in various challenges in order to obtain clues. Each clue led to another challenge and finally led them back to camp.

The challenges were based on the topics of the camp from the week and included:

A team runs to their next challenge

  • ...a reenactment of Saul being led into Damascus while blind. Our kids had to take turns leading one blindfolded team member up two streets marked as Way to Damascus and Straight Street to a location labeled House of Judas. Along the way, they had to collect colored markers and turn them in at the end for the next clue.
  • ...a lesson in the Great Commission. Children were reminded that they need to be able to share Christ and teach His word at any time, in any place. To demonstrate, each group was asked to find three strangers and teach them a traditional Bulgarian dance on video, then share the love of Jesus.
  • opportunity to serve (ministry). The oldest or biggest members of the team had to carry their teammates up a flight of stairs from the beach, one at a time. Then, they had to find a store, buy water, and serve everyone a cupful.
  • ...spiritual warfare and God's armor. The team had to rescue Roy, who was oppressed (tied up). While helping him, they came under attack from water gun-wielding enemies and had to use their shields to fend off the assault.
The winners with their prize
Finally, they returned to camp where they had to solve a riddle to gain access to an area with a hidden key. The team that found the key, used it to unlock a door and discovered a large box decorated as a bible and filled with chocolates. 

Samuil enjoys his chicken and potatoes
Afterward, we had an amazing dinner (by camp standards) of пиле със картофе (chicken with potatoes) and then worshiped with a few songs before listening to Joey speak on spiritual warfare. He pointed the kids toward the reality of an enemy in our lives and the challenges we face through his attacks.

Joey shares on Spiritual Warfare
Tonight, we adults will be sharing in a seaside meal of grilled fish and vegetables. We will be sitting on the rocks overlooking the Black Sea as we enjoy a friendly evening of fellowship and food. Two more full days of camp before we return to Sofia on Monday. Keep praying for us and God's perfect plan here! Лека нощ (Good night!)

Update from Brijon

Visiting an orphanage in Sofia

Hello everybody, it's Brijon. First off I would just like to say that Bulgaria is AMAZING and I hope it's not wrong of me to say that I really don't miss America at all.Whenever I travel I miss home, but Bulgaria feels like home.This trip I have done things that are way out of my box, but I pray all the time for God to calm my heart and I feel much better.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia
 So Monday we arrived at camp and let me just say it feels like I have been here forever. I am not complaining or anything! I have had a great time so far! The Black Sea is great, but I do not like the crabs. They are in love with my feet and I am scared of them.The food here at camp is good. Sometimes I do not eat everything, but the one thing I do eat a lot of is the bread. If I can, I try to eat 3 to 4 pieces at lunch and dinner. The teachings are also amazing and each of them really spoke to me. I also taught on Wednesday and I was so nervous. I had all my notes down and I went over my teaching in my mind and with a couple people of what I was going to say, but as soon as I sat down I forgot everything that I was going to say. It did not come out the way I planned it, but I think I got my point across. One girl came up to me and told me how she thought that it was great that I came here to do what God called me to do. That made me feel much better.

Making a friend in Elin Pelin
 Before we got to camp we went to a church in Elin Pelin. I got to talk to a lady about what I am doing here and about many different subjects in life. The one question that she asked me that I will never forget is "Why?" I had told here how I was nervous about doing some things here because it was out of my box, but when it came time to do it I felt totally fine. All my nervousness went away. I told her that I would pray before I had to do it and after I had prayed I felt a calmness about it because I knew this is what God has called me to do this summer.

On the airplane traveling to Bulgaria
 All in all this trip so far has been amazing and I have seen God work in many ways through many people and I am very blessed to be here. I am happy that God has called me here this summer because I feel like I have grown more and I know that God is with me all the time. Everything here is great! The food is good, the people are great, and the kids are amazing. They love on you like they have known you their entire lives. I ask that you would continue praying for the team and everything else for the remainder of the trip and I ask that even when we come back that you would continue praying. :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Update from Roy

Roy talking about worship music in Elin Pelin
My name is Roy, and today is the 4th day of camp. Very early this morning I got to spend time with one of the teenagers here. He has been going to church his whole life, and in the middle of the conversation he accepted Jesus in his heart. I also got to share with him the things I struggled with, and the past sins I was apart of. I used them to help him learn from my mistakes, so that he might not do them also. I also encouraged him to continue seeking God, to read His word, and to talk with Him. There is so much that God has done, and that he will continue to do. Please pray for the team that we may continue surrendering to God and His will. God bless you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Black Sea Camp in Photos

Less talk, more pics... That's the theme for this update. Here are a bunch of pics from the camp this week in the town of Chernomorets on the Black Sea. Enjoy!

Teaching the Word

Mike teaches Monday night on Coming to Christ
Niki Draganov explains the armor of God
Brijon shares with teens today
Vernon teaches tonight on Sharing Christ

Games with the Kids

Kids tangled in a human knot
The knot begins to untangle
The "Minefield" game
Trying to grab a water bottle without touching a mine
Vernon watches out for a blindfolded kid


Megan tries some tsatsa (fried fish)
Fish dinner at the camp
Kebapche dinner at the camp

Camp Creatures

Emi with a live crab from the Black Sea
Camp spider... Yes, its really that big!


The Black Sea from a Chernomorets street
Storefront in town... Coffee, ice cream & a payphone: what more do you need?
Moon over a chicken yard behind the camp... our daily wakeup call!


Joey playing games in the evening
The girls at the beach
Kids making a team flag for camp
Hanging out in the boat at camp... Why its there? No one knows!
Linzi hangs out with some of the Bulgarian leaders
Megan with Emi
Young man from Gabrovo paints camp shirt
Brijon gets her first tattoo (not real... henna!)
Bri sports her tattoo... "YaYa" in BG (her new nickname)