We headed out in the blue van towards the Balkan mountains and into the true “boondocks” of Bulgaria. One thing that can be said about Bulgarian roads- they are not in good shape! This van lacked shocks and we were heading out into back roads through the mountains. When I say back roads I mean that we would see farmers with a few goats in front of them on the sides of the roads. The roads were winding and bumpy, and for some reason I decided to down an entire liter of Shweppes Orange Soda before making the voyage. So safe to say my face was turning green in the back seat as we blasted through the Balkan landscape in a bumpy blue Ford wonder of a vehicle.
And then we passed through the small town of Elaina and onto “Camp Lucky”- which is right in a small village with a population of 10 called “Maryan”. We found Ed Cox, a “former” American, and a local Navigator who had been working in Bulgaria since the days of Communism. Ed showed us our digs, an old restored Bulgarian house. Ralph, Bonnie, Anthony, Sarah and I would be staying in 3 different rooms, and all sharing one bathroom. The house was open aired, it was hot, and right next to a farm complete with goats, sheep, dogs, chickens and ducks that looked like mutant chicken-ducks, so safe to say there were plenty of bugs inside and outside of the home. I thought to myself, “this is what missions is about!” Of course I didn’t completely anticipate some of the discomfort and disequilibrium that would come my way in the next week while living there. J
Sarah and I were given the “lovers bungalow” up on the second floor. We unpacked our things and got to know the owner of the house- a guy who looked a lot like a Bulgaria Jerry Garcia. He taught me how to make Turkish coffee and explained how the plum trees in the back produced plums that he fermented and turned into “plum reika”- an indigenous Bulgarian drink that is common amongst locals. The owners of the place then made their way out and we made ourselves at home.
“Camp Lucky” was right next door. Ed had made a good relationship with the owner “Sonya” and she had invited him to put together an English language camp there. The great thing about it was that it was not in any way a Christian camp, so almost all the students weren’t necessarily followers of Jesus. We found creative ways throughout the week to share our faith- sometimes we would look at parables and stories in scripture as part of our study. And throughout the week we explored topics such as “real love”, and “wisdom”.
Each individual leader got to work with a small group 5 times- Monday through Friday- for hour long sessions. We’d be given questions to talk about with our group based on the 2 hour long group sessions we’d had right before. I got the jackpot for my group- a group of young teenage Bulgarian boys (And I’m not being sarcastic- this is my favorite age group!) My group consisted of: Nasko- a hilarious guy who always cracked jokes, Martin- another hilarious guy who was a well accomplished athlete and had a dream to bring American Football more to the forefront in Bulgaria, Vlado- a soft spoken young gentleman who really opened up his heart throughout our time there, Ivan- a younger guy who had a real talent for organizing and directing things, Sami- a young poet and actor/romantic kid who really shined in creative endeavors, and Chris- the son of a musician- the only one that claimed to follow Jesus- Chris had a great personality and a natural connection to most people.
Throughout the week we ate some interesting camp food- many different kinds of sausage, plenty of Bulgarian salads loaded with ripe tomatoes, and even one dessert that tasted like Pepto-Bismol flavored pudding. As always we had amazing espresso throughout the day which was of a very high European quality, and even some really good Bulgarian breads filled with cheese- a definite favorite of mine.
And our group discussions grew more and more creative and interesting. We actually made a couple of videos in our group- one about the Good Samaritan- done by the students in English (a real challenge for them no doubt!) and another about Solomon and two prostitutes arguing over a deceased child done in Bulgarian (definitely more natural for them).
The greatest joy in our entire trip for both Sarah and I was getting to know these students, who have now become friends on Facebook. We hope to stay in touch with them and see where their lives progress. We got to have many great conversations about faith and life, as well as tell our stories. Will you pray with us that the seeds planted would sprout up to eternal life?
After a great week at camp and many uncomfortable nights of sleep J, we made our almost tearful farewells and headed back to Sofia for one night at the place we had stayed there before.
Then it was onto the airports- for 3 security checks- one at Sofia, Bulgaria, the next (and most thorough) in Munich, Germany, and then the long flight to Newark, New Jersey followed by the last pass into customs. We then flew into Cleveland and spent a great evening with some family and friends, and I flew back into Manchester the day after.
So here I am, all jet-lagged and transformed forever. Will you also pray that this vision for the global church would never leave our minds? We want to see more of the way our Father in Heaven sees- that His church is so much bigger, and doing so much more than just affecting America (which represents 4 percent of the global church!). The needs in nations throughout the world are huge, and our responsibility to suffering and persecuted brothers and sisters is necessary. If we identify with and support them in every way, maybe even we will receive the call to a different country or a hostile people group. May we always be open to the call of Christ to bring the gospel to all nations, and may it transform the way we live in America. May we lay down the idols of money, consumerism, comfort and foolish pleasure to know our Savior more.
- Shumen, Bulgaria: Days Six, Seven and Eight of Bulgaria Trip (benjaminbradfordwhite.wordpress.com)
- Sofia: Bulgaria’s Dynamic Capital City (fromheretobulgaria.wordpress.com)