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Stories From the Field

Mournful and Joyful

Last year at this time I had to tell the choir director at our downtown mother church that I couldn’t sing on Sunday, since I had been in England the week before and a virus was spreading. One year later I attended choir practice and found out that one of my fellow sopranos had passed away due to COVID-19.  I was told by her best friend: “I don’t know what to do without her, but…” she shrugged her shoulders. And we found our choir binders and sat in our slightly more spaced chairs and waited for practice to begin. 

The next week I found out that one of our English Club members—a believer with doubts and fears—had passed away in the hospital due to complications from COVID-19. And our club mourned. He was younger than Villi, having only turned 40 in January. 

March was bookended by the births of the Sale’s third child and the Hoot’s second. As our team cared for the siblings during hospital stays, we rejoiced in healthy babies and mothers, new people to love, and in seeing God’s faithfulness and creativity in these tiny humans!  

On March 12th, we held our first membership class for New Life Church, and two of the people from our seeker Bible study attended. 

These losses, these new lives—be they through birth or being born again—are equal parts mournful and full of joy. We do not “mourn like those who have no hope” though we certainly mourn the presence of our friends. But I am reminded very much right now that “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

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Stories From the Field

Nov Zhivot New Member Class

In March Nov Zhivot Church hosted the first ever new members course. Eleven regular and new attenders of our church gathered Friday evening and all day Saturday to learn more about the church. Friday night we discussed what the church believes by going through the Apostles’ Creed, on Saturday we talked about what we practice as a church, what we expect from our members and what members can expect from the church.

Our friend who has not yet professed faith came, “Because I think that Jesus is the only one who can change people, and can change the world.” Another woman who had been coming for years was very surprised that the Bible commands that we submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).  We had to assure her that that wasn’t a translation error.  One family has just discovered Reformed theology and is excited to join a Reformed church.  We read a lot of scripture and had good discussions about doctrine, the life of the church, and how we can serve the Lord and one another. We plan on holding this course at least once or twice more this year to be sure to include everyone that wants to come, but our first trial was successful by the grace of God.  We confess with the psalmist that unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain (Ps. 127). Therefore we pray that the Lord will build New Life Church and we will rest in His sovereign care. 

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Stories From the Field

Heroic Death

The picture above is of Vasil Levskl, a Bulgarian national hero. 35 years before Bulgaria won freedom from the Ottoman empire, Levski was sentenced to death for his role in seeking to free the Bulgarians from Ottoman rule. Ordained as a monk in the Orthodox church, Levski left his church role to become a revolutionary. He was a master of disguise and there are many stories of his daring, his courage, and his sacrifice. He is even referred to as the Apostle of Freedom. Many Bulgarians revere Levski and there’s even a soccer team that has taken his name for their team. The anniversary of his death on February 18, 1873, has become a national holiday.

This year the 18th fell on our penultimate Bible Study. One of the participants brought a poem about Levski written by one of Levski’s contemporaries (another Bulgarian hero, a writer named Ivan Vasov) that had been translated into English. The participant asked to read it out loud to celebrate the holiday. The poem compares Levski to Jesus, dying for the freedom of his people. That statement gives me pause as I consider how I view Jesus. Is he merely a martyr to me? I value having good theology, so of course, I would say, “No! He didn’t stay dead. He’s not a martyr; He is God!”

Gospel oriented conversations often end up here. The question of who Jesus actually is–is he a legend like Robinhood? Was he a Jewish freedom fighter? Was he a martyr? As we talk with people who have heard and believed these things, the gospel becomes more and more beautiful. We get to tell people that Jesus was a better hero because He is God AND He wants a relationship with us now. The invitation is not merely to adhere to a set of rules or to follow a teaching. The invitation is to know and love and be known and loved by the Creator of the Universe.

 

andin order to; used instead of “to”, especially after try, come, goMore (Definitions, Synonyms, Translation)

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Stories From the Field

Bread Blessed by a Priest

“I had a short spiritual conversation with a young person outside an Orthodox church that they had just been praying in. She gave me this bread that was blessed by the priest. We are praying for the reforming of the Orthodox Church. Thankful for these opportunities to talk about Christ with someone who is a part of the Orthodox Church and yet is open to talking about their faith.”
Thankful for Ellen sharing about her heart for the Orthodox Church to be reformed & revived, & how God allowed her a moment to be able to connect with someone from the tradition she is praying for!

 

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Stories From the Field

The Jesus Storybook Bible

My Bulgarian teacher sighed when I pulled out the colorful children’s Bible. She seemed to agree that reading would be useful for me, but envisioned boring hours of listening to horrendous pronunciation and stories that she already knew.
Two days later I was back with the same book and the same grin of excitement. As we started the first story in The Jesus Storybook Bible, something changed… “This isn’t just a book for children!”
My Bulgarian teacher flipped through several pages, skimming them while a slow smile began to appear on her face. She asked me where it came from and wondered how such a colorful and clearly childish book should make her want to read the whole thing RIGHT NOW! And actually, how can I get one of these!?

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Stories From the Field

Plovdiv Internship

A short term trip for Audrey + an English Camp for teens = an internship in Plovdiv.  Now Audrey is developing a young ladies Bible Study with teens from our Teen English Camp.

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Stories From the Field

English Camp 2018

“We talk about God and what the Bible says at English Camp. What do you think about that?”

Each year we ask students this question during the application for English Camp. It always provokes interesting conversations, even before we leave for camp!

This year our theme was God is Rescuer. Over the course of the week, we talked about how our lives are unmanageable and corrupted by sin. And the problem isn’t just that there are bad people in the world; the problem is that we all have evil in our hearts. God is vital because He is the only one who can rescue us from our own corruption.

Please continue to pray for those who attended camp. Many left with their beliefs about people challenged by what was shared from the Bible. Pray for them as they consider what the Bible has to say and pray for us as we continue to share with them about God and what the Bible teaches.

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Church, do not grow weary in doing good!

I recently attended an event in which young people from Plovdiv could gather and practice different languages they spoke.  It was a great opportunity to meet new people!  I shared with a new acquaintance that I am an American and am working with the Protestant church.  This always comes with a bit of hesitation on my part, since I never know what the person’s reaction will be when they hear “Protestant” – will they think I’m in a cult?  However, I was surprised when this woman said, “Oh, I think churches are wonderful!” She went on to tell me how she knew several Bulgarian families who moved to the US, and how evangelical churches there had been the ones to help the families get settled and even gave them toys for their children!  Her enthusiasm was such an encouragement.  Church, do not grow weary in doing good!

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Stories From the Field

A place to belong

One of our goals for our English as a Foreign Language ministry is to form friendships with the people God brings to our English Clubs. While we have seen a lot of chances to have one-on-one friendships, I’ve also seen God using English Clubs to give people a place to belong. Many of our students enjoy getting dinner together after English club, and with our new location, we are able to cook and serve dinner once a month! Pray for our team as we seek to show our friends the love of Jesus. There have been many opportunities to talk about God, the difference between trying really hard to be good and receiving grace from God, and how God is not just looking for good people, but for people who want to know Him.

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I don’t know where I would be without English Club!

At our English Club Thanksgiving Meal we asked if anyone wanted to share what they were thankful for this year. Every single person shared! And multiple times our club members said that they were thankful for English Club, and the community that they have found in it.

“I’m so thankful for all of you Americans who give your time to make this club for us. I don’t know where I would be without it.”

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A Miscommunication

On Christmas day, a miscommunication with one of our newer English Club students, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, meant that he showed up for a breakfast we organized at our church space for the ladies in the Daughters of Bulgaria program, who had cancelled at the last minute! Our student thought he was coming to our church service (the morning before) but we invited him to share breakfast with us. It was a small and amusing mishap, but it was wonderful to be able to include him, and we had the opportunity to invite him to future church services. Even though he is learning both Bulgarian and English (his first language is French!), he’s faithfully attended many of our events and has brought friends with him as well, and we hope to continue to build our relationship with him and other English students in the coming year.

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Two Baptisms

We recently witnessed two baptisms on the same day in the Evangelical church in Plovdiv. What an exciting thing to see! A young man and an older gentleman, representing two different generations with two very different stories, but both professing faith in the same God who does not change. We rejoice with these men as they have professed faith in Jesus Christ and have joined the church. What an encouragement to see a tangible reminder that God is indeed growing His church in Europe and throughout the world.

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The Lord’s Prayer

There is a Bulgarian song of the Lord’s Prayer that our team thought would be nice for the church to learn. “We would learn it, but we don’t have any piano music” was the response we received from the church. Being the only one on the team who had piano knowledge I went home and tried to find a solution. I spent a few hours on a music composition website and was able to create sheet music for the song. Now the church has music for this song that the choir will use to teach the congregation and in the future be able to sing as one body. Though I have never transcribed music before, I was able to use my God given talents to bring Him glory through the church in Bulgaria.

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What do pickles have to do with sharing the Gospel?

For two years I had asked my landlord for his pickle recipe, and for two years he had told me we would make them together. The season finally arrived – it is an end of summer activity – and he came by to tell me that it was time and the next day we would be making pickles. The next day, however, he was not able to make them after all and so sent his brother in his stead. For 5 hours that Saturday morning we worked on putting up pickles together and, with my limited Bulgarian, talked about work, the weather, and all sorts of things. I began to feel like I should share the Gospel with him, but I had no clue how. I prayed that God would open the door and not two minutes later he asked about the church we work with and told me that he thought all faiths were pretty much the same. I shared what I could and was able to give him a Bible before he left. I am not sure what has or will come of this conversation, but it was a great example of how God can use anything for His glory!

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Stories From the Field

Community of Faith: Dirty Hands

When you arrive at our MTW Bulgaria website, the first thing you see is a banner. Notice the dirty hands. They’re not just a pretty graphic but the reality of what it means to be God’s people in a broken world. But why dirty? Now, notice our team’s motto.  “Showing the love of Christ to make known the hope of Christ.” Demonstrating the love of Christ can be messy – especially when people despise you for it. Being a Community of Jesus followers means a lot of dirty hands are dealing with messy things, things that come from sin, brokenness and trying to love people who are not terribly lovable. Why do we have dirty hands? Jesus had dirty hands. He demonstrated his love to us, even while we were yet sinners, He died for us.

Please continue praying for the Community of Faith – humanly speaking, a fragile expedition. Pray for the leadership (Vlado, Boian, Petko, Dave, and Dal) as we lead and exemplify trust in God and guide this new community of God’s people.

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Flickering Candles and the Truth of Sin

Lilly and I were walking through the city one afternoon when we began to discuss Easter traditions. In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, she said, people would walk once around the

church, each carrying a lit candle. “The number of times your candle flickers is the number of times you’ve sinned in the past year,” she explained.

“Wow…I think my candle wouldn’t ever stop flickering. It would just go out!” I said. “But,” I asked, “What if your candle didn’t flicker at all? Would that mean you didn’t sin?”

“It must mean that, if it didn’t flicker,” Lilly answered.
“Do you think that ever happens? Is it possible to not sin?”
“Well,” she said, “I have had some friends whose candles didn’t flicker…”

As Lilly and I continued to discuss this, I asked her about whether jealousy was a sin. She agreed that it was, and I asked, “So, do you think your friends weren’t even jealous one time during that whole year?”

Lilly said, “They must not have…,” seeming unsure.

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“Bulgarians are strange people…”

So said Kristin, a woman who works in a second-hand store just down the street from my apartment. I had gone to return an item that wasn’t working correctly, and Kristin remembered me from my previous visit. We chatted a bit, and she began to tell me about how she understood her country’s people. Kristin said that Bulgarians see things negatively and don’t smile much, comparing them to me and my quick smile as an American. She said much of this was a result of Communism, though that fell close to 25 years ago. I asked her if she thought that Bulgarians didn’t have hope for the future, and she said, “No, they hope for a lot of things, but they don’t do anything about it, so nothing ever changes.”

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Community of Faith

In February we celebrated our church plant’s 2nd birthday; we had our first meeting on February 14, 2015. Since then what looked like a small discussion group meeting on Sunday nights has grown and formed into a our “Community of Faith”. Very recently the women of the church- a full range of different backgrounds, points of view, ages, and also different languages- have started a Bible study that meets twice a month. We are reading and studying the book “The Lies Women Believe and the Truth that sets them Free” by Nancy Leigh Demoss. The book acts as a guide as we focus on the word of God, and our goal is to truly dig into His scriptures for our truth and our foundation. They invited me to be a part so I get to sit in and practice my Bulgarian listening skills. They have also cared for me and bought me an english version of all the materials, so I can follow along fully. I would ask you to pray for us as a group of women: to encourage each other, support each other, and push each other towards the truth.

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The Art Exhibit

Some time ago we were given pictures drawn by art students in a school located in the nearby town of Asenovgrad. The art teacher there is extremely talented and really brings out the best in her students. With the help of our language teacher, Elena, we were able to set up a “Cultural Night/Art Exhibit” in a local library where we could display the pictures. Many people from Plovdiv and Asenovgrad were invited and various people came. We announced that the pictures were available for them to take home but we asked that they make a donation. We were able to raise 275 leva for the school to purchase needed art supplies. It was a wonderful evening meeting new people, listening to music and poetry and enjoying the pictures the children had made.

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Stories From the Field

Coffee with a Friend

“It’s too easy to become a Christian . . . so it can’t be true!”  This was Alex’s response to the Gospel when he and Brett met for coffee last week.  “So you don’t have to do anything, just believe in what Jesus has already done?  I think this was made up because it’s what people want to hear; it’s the easy way.”  Alex continued, “The teachings of Buddhism are much more difficult; it’s so deep that no one can understand everything.  Christianity can be explained in only a few minutes so it can’t be right!”

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Daughters of Bulgaria

This season in Bulgaria truly confirmed the calling God put on my heart 5 years ago to work with women trapped in sexual exploitation. My time with Daughters of Bulgaria gave me the opportunity to work with women in an aftercare setting, to weekly see God’s pursuing love on the streets in outreach, and to learn more about the power of prayer and power of community. I saw prevention in action among children in tiny villages, and expanded my knowledge and experience through intensive training. This year has empowered me and motivated me even more to follow God’s dreams for my life in serving and loving women trapped in darkness.

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English Camp Overview

English camp in the Rhodope Mountains was exhausting but great. Each morning we taught the Bulgarians some English concepts and told stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally-Lloyd Jones. In the evenings we taught fun classes like art, CrossFit, Myers-Briggs, Poetry, and Veganism. Then the games began, which included some intense matches of Volleyball, Dodgeball (played with balls from a ball pit haha), and a home video competition. At night, our team leaders expounded on the stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible and we had group discussions on it afterward. Finally, we wrapped up the evening with different events like dancing, karaoke, games, a movie, and a bonfire. It was a fun week of bonding for us all, and a good introduction to what the Bible is about for the Bulgarians.

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Intro to the Well

Being in Sofia where I am surrounded by new friends, culture, language, food, geography, and teaching has caused me to do a lot more thinking, or introspection. Already I feel that God is revealing idols like comfort and success that inspire the choices I make in my daily life. He has shown me how broken my theology is, and how much I need Him and my community of faith. Before I left this summer, I knew that I had fallen into complacency in my relationships with my family and God. But God is good, and has been waking me up from this spiritual slumber. Sanctification can be a slow, repetitive, and painful process that isn’t always linear, but I rest in the assurance that God loves and delights in me even when I don’t have it together. Thanks be to Christ!

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The Well 2015

Looking back, it’s hard to pick a favorite memory or event from this summer. It was awesome meeting Bulgarians and learning about their lives, history, and culture. As an introvert, I really appreciated and related to the quiet nature of the Bulgarians I befriended. I also enjoyed the opportunity to lead and teach English clubs throughout the summer and at English camp. I enjoyed talking about life and what made people tick, and I’m sad that I won’t be around to continue these conversations in person.

The teaching in the morning throughout the internship profoundly shaped the way I understand the world and my place in it. In addition to what we learned about the Gospel, missionary life, calling, and evangelism, I also learned a lot about Biblical leaders in my research project. In fact, I may have gone a little overboard and typed up a 24-page document for said project… if any future Well interns are reading this, I don’t recommend doing this!

Finally, the team dynamic of the Well was an incredible mix of love, fun, and encouragement that feels incredibly rare. Whether we were making a meal together, watching a movie, or losing ourselves on the dance floor/ karaoke mike, hanging out with them was always a joy. We shared each other’s joys and burdens, and I wouldn’t want to go “there and back again” with anyone else.