Shumen, Bulgaria: Days Six, Seven and Eight of Bulgaria Trip

Centre, Shumen

Image via Wikipedia

After a great stay in the very urban Sofia, Bulgaria, we boarded a blue van to head towards Shumen for the next leg of our journey.  This Blue van was a real classic- wouldn’t start half the time, and lacked shocks, causing a bumpy ride most of the time.  But luckily we got her started and headed out.

We traveled to Shumen- about a 4 hour car ride in the van.  I learned how much I love European gas stations.  I’m not kidding man- they have high quality chocolate and espresso, and usually pretty decent bathrooms.  We stopped at a few along the way because the blue van needed to be filled pretty often 🙂  We even stopped at a Bulgarian McDonalds, and had a comical experience trying to order in English to the girl behind the counter who spoke mostly Bulgarian.

We arrived in Shumen, and Sarah, Anthony and I got the privilege of staying with a great couple- Bobby and Rali Stefanov.  Bobby is a pastor of a church in Shumen and works with Navigators.  They have three great kids- Sami, Tedi, and Anni.  They graciously kept us up in two of their spare rooms.

 

While in Shumen, we got to play a concert at the church.  Sarah sang, Anthony put together a drum set up with a tamborine, bass drum and electronic snare drum.  We played a set of songs including stuff by Ingrid Michaelson, Adele, Phil Wickham, and some originals.  Many of the students that attended the concert became fast friends.  Because the vibe was right, we just ended the concert with a stream of worship songs and I shared my story of getting rescued from addiction by Jesus- and Sarah and Anthony shared their stories and hearts.

 

At one moment, we were singing “Mighty to Save”, and the Bulgarians knew the song in their language.  We backed off of the microphones more than once to let them sing.  I remember looking at Sarah and we both had tears in our eyes.  That morning I had been reading about the Tower of Babel and how God had scattered people into different languages because:  1.  They weren’t following His command to continue to move out into the ends of the earth, and 2.  They were getting prideful in their quest for power and making a name for themselves.  But this moment of worshipping with family from a different country was a taste of what it will be like in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus Christ breaks down barriers between races, nations, classes, languages, and brings His Church together in unity.  What a beautiful thing.

 

We made many friends in Shumen- like Joy- one of the pastors daughters- who showed us around town and took us to get some really tasty crepes, and Aysun- who was a Muslim girl from Turkey- a really sweet girl who was really good friends with some of the other students from the church.  We hope to keep in contact with them for many days and years to come.

 

Next:  Our experience at the English Language Camp in a Bulgarian Village with a  population of 10 people!

Bulgaria Trip: Day Five

Rila monastery

Image via Wikipedia

Last night we spoke with a man who had lived through communism and its fall in 1989 (the year the Berlin Wall came down).  He was part of what they call “the free church” here- made up of mostly independent, bible believing churches.  He explained of the period between 1994 and 1997 when there was a communist uprising again and “the free church” was made illegal- and his church had their building shut down by the police and were kicked out.  He joked about how they used to meet in the park for church and when cops would ask them what they were doing, they’d just say, “We’re having a picnic!”

From the beginning of the day today we took a trip far outside of Sofia to “Rila Monastery“- about a 123 Km. drive by car.  Our friend Ralph who we came with has a good friend that has a good amount of money and is very generous, and we were driving his car that he lent us, a Mercedes Benz!  We definitely got to travel there in luxury!

When we arrived at Rila Monastery, it was a sight to see.  It is a “holy spot” in the midst of the Eastern Orthodoxy of the Balkans.  People gathered in this temple area and made the sign of the cross, lighting candles, and bowing down in prayer to very historical paintings of saints, and even those of Jesus dressed in fine linens.  They sold bottles of Holy Water to drink for 1 Bulgarian dollar (I believe pronounced “Lev”?)  They sold mini icons one could hang on their wall or put on their refrigerator.

After eating a fair amount of yogurt, cheese and bread, we took off for a hike into the mountains.  Our destination was a cave where saint John of Rila once lived.  Me, Anthony and Lily (a local Bulgarian) took the harder route up a trail in the woods and got lost, so we backtracked to the easier trail on the road, and got stuck in the rain a bit.  We finally made it to the cave.

The cave has many myths surrounding it.  When you are crawling through the exit you have to squeeze between two stones, and it is said that if you have too much sin in your life that you will be crushed and killed on your way out.  There are many little icons with candles around them along the way, and people leave little notes for the saint, wishing for their cancers to be healed, for finding their long awaited boyfriend/girlfriend/etc. and more.  Something in my heart broke as I saw many people bowing in awe in these many spots, with a bit of desperation in their demeanor.

Later in our hike, Anthony, Lily and I got into a series of great discussions.  First we talked with Lily about her views on the orthodox religion.  She said that she didn’t really believe in all the icons or the “holy places”, but did believe that Jesus is God’s Son.  I encouraged her as much as I could to examine the scriptures for herself.  We also chatted about waiting to marry one person and being celibate for that person- an ideal that Anthony, Lily and I all held to.  We shared experiences and mistakes we had made, and before long it was time to part ways and go back to Sofia.

It’s my 30th Birthday today, so the Gattis and my lovely wife Sarah took me out for a meal, complete with a mini cheesecake decorated with a “3” and a “0” candle.  We ended our evening on a stroll through the city night life, and grabbed ice cream.  We ran into a young gypsy man who asked us for money and I gave him a bit and just held his shoulder and repeated the name “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”  I don’t know if he understood but he did smile.

Bulgaria Trip: Day Four

Sipping on a seriously strong cup of Nescafe instant coffee while writing this.  For some reason, Nestle is a big deal out here in Sofia, Bulgaria!  Just enjoyed a great mountain hike with a great missionary family and their three children.  Marty- the Father of the family, was the first local in Bulgaria to join the staff with the Navigators when they began their work here.

I really enjoyed time with Marty’s son, a ten year old little fireball who had a hunger to go off the beaten path with me and climb on boulders in the trail.  We had a great view of Sofia as we neared the peak.  We turned back a little before because we had such a large group with us and not everyone wanted to go to the top, and besides, we were lower on water than we wanted to be.

That’s been our day so far!   Tomorrow I turn 30 in Europe!

A little story I forgot to share from day one of our trip (jet lag can do a number on you!):

While on the first plane ride from Cleveland, Ohio to Newark, New Jersey, I was trying to figure out where to put my guitar on the plane, and a happening kat told me where to put it so that they would take care of it.  He was wielding a guitar himself.  The guy couldn’t have been more hospitable and kind.  It ended up that he had a seat next to us on the plane.  He told us about himself- his name was “Seven”- the lead singer for a country group called “Whiskey Falls”.  Here’s a link to know more about them:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yFVhOpaUZc.  He shared with us all of the great opportunities they’d had playing all around the world.  He told us he was heading into New York City to check out a TV show that they were going to do music for.  We all relaxed and napped during the flight.  While picking up our guitars and chatting further after landing, I got to share a bit of how the music we play is mostly about our faith, life & struggles in following Jesus.  He shared how he was raised Catholic and a lot of those values had stayed with him, and his band had even written a tune that had such faith filled imagery that it was picked up by a few Christian radio stations.  I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me, and gave him a little leather-bound bible I was carrying.  I just told him, “hey man- read this for what it really says- it’s had a huge impact on my life and I felt you should have it.”  He was really grateful for the gift and said he would check it out.

Now, it doesn’t matter at all what he does with the bible.  But these are certainly what kingdom moments are all about- doing life and running into cool people, and in the midst even getting to share our love for Jesus.

 

More updates on their way!  We’ll be spending Wednesday and Thursday doing more fun stuff in Sofia, and then onto Shumen, Bulgaria, where we get to start doing the work we really came to do.

Bulgaria Trip: Day Two & Three

Had a long day of flying yesterday.  Cleveland, OH to Newark, NJ, then an 8 hour flight from Newark, NJ to Munich, Germany, then another 2 hour flight from Munich, Germany to Sofia, Bulgaria.  A lot of traveling, but definitely worth it.  Jet Lag has worn off considerably as we head into day three of our voyage.

We spent the morning walking through downtown Sofia.  We are staying at a great little Bed & Breakfast right in the middle of downtown.  A business associate & friend of Ralph Gatti (who we are indebted to for being a great close friend, funding our trip & taking us here!) owns the B & B and we are fortunate to be staying in a nice place with a nice bed.

We saw a number of old cathedrals/churches on our walk, one being the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which is a famous orthodox church in the city.  Orthodoxy is a huge thing in Sofia.  While inside, I noticed many people going up to kiss pictures of orthodox saints and bowing down in prayer to the pictures of them on the wall.  We talked to Ralph and Bonnie (his wonderful wife), and they told us how this devotion to Eastern Orthodoxy in Bulgaria is a great conversation catalyst.  They have many friends who are a part of the Eastern Orthodox church and great spiritual conversations come within these relationships.

We’ve eaten a great amount of food here, and enjoyed the potency of European coffee.  It’s 4:08pm in Sofia, Bulgaria, and 9:08am Eastern Standard time.  The caffeine from the potent coffee has worn off, and it’s time for a mid-day nap (a great European pastime that should be instituted in America more often!)  So I’ll sign off now and catch up later!

Bulgaria Trip: Day One

Airport welcome sign.

Image via Wikipedia

Hey everyone!

I thought it would be a cool idea to share thoughts during this trip Sarah (my wife), Ralph, Bonnie & Anthony Gatti are taking to Sofia, Bulgaria.

For those that don’t know, we’ll be doing some mission work as well as traveling out there, including- playing music in a local cafe & church, working in an English language camp, teaching a music workshop, and generally making good friends with some of the locals.

So right now we sit at Hopkins airport in Cleveland, Ohio, waiting to take a flight to Newark, New Jersey, then onto Munich, Germany, and finally in Sofia, Bulgaria.  Throw up a prayer for our long voyage- 16 hours with layovers!  I’ll keep putting updates out.