Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Our Busy Schedule

With 19 days until our departure, we're still putting the final pieces of our schedule together, but here's a quick overview of our itinerary:


Monday, June 29 Depart and travel all day
Tuesday, June 30 Arrive in afternoon. Rest and fellowship in evening
Wednesday, July 1 Macedonia
Thursday, July 2 Macedonia / Stolnik (7 pm)
Friday, July 3 Sightseeing in Sofia / Bozhia Sila service (Elin Pelin - 7 pm)
Sat-Sat, July 4-11 Black Sea Camp (Chernomoretz)
Sunday, July 12 Hein-Ivanova wedding / Dinner with NM team
Monday, July 13 Fakulteta
Tuesday, July 14 Svishtov
Wednesday, July 15 Svishtov / Blaga Vest evening service (Sofia)

Thursday, July 16 Depart and travel all day

After 24 hours of travel, we should arrive in the early afternoon in Sofia. Of course, that's barring any unforeseen circumstances (such as missed, delayed or canceled flights), which we have come to expect as the norm on such a long trip. We plan to settle in, grab dinner, and get some rest that night before heading off on a 4-hour road trip to Skopje, Macedonia the next day. We're going to be meeting with Pastor Mite Goshev and his wife Krasi and family and joining with the church there for a service Wednesday evening. We'll spend the night in Skopje (a beautiful city, by the way), and we'll spend some time on Thursday in fellowship before heading back to Bulgaria after lunch.
The next two days we will visit churches near Sofia. On Thursday, we visit a Roma (gypsy) church in Stolnik and on Friday, we drive to nearby Elin Pelin for a service there. We have a long-standing relationship with both churches and are excited to see our family there.
We'll also spend some time on Friday sightseeing in the city. We have several new team members that have never experienced the culture, and we will also be joined by our friends from New Mexico. We are excited to share the city we love so much with our newest co-laborers!
Saturday, we will embark on a 6-7 hour journey across Bulgaria to the Black Sea town of Chernomorets for the youth camp. On the way, we plan to stop in the town of Koprivshtitsa, an "old world" Bulgarian village that beautifully represents the nation's rich past. There's even a sculpture that looks just like our very own Pastor Chuck Kelly!
I've already shared about camp in my last post. However, I also have a side trip planned to the town of Chirpan to visit a Roma pastor there. Mihail Kirov pastors the Salvation Christian Center and runs a ministry that distributes shoes, clothing, food, etc. to the needy in his area. A few of us are going to visit him for a day and spend time working with his ministry to see how we can help in the future.
We return from camp the following Saturday and have a very special day planned on Sunday. Thomas Hein, from our church here in Bullhead City, will be marrying Simona Ivanova, a dear friend from the Blaga Vest church in Sofia! The two met last year on our trip and have been in communication ever since. We will get to share in their wedding experience and are so excited about our two congregations growing even closer together!
The next day, we have an evangelistic event planned in Fakulteta. This Roma neighborhood in Sofia is home to the Resurrection Church, pastored by Nayden Borisov. We have been working with this church for the past several years and are excited to see what God has planned this year.
On Tuesday, we will drive for several hours to the town of Svishtov The town is situated on the banks of the Danube River on Bulgaria's northern border with Romania. We will visit the Blaga Vest church there, pastored by Ivan Motchkov and spend a day in fellowship with them. We return to Sofia on Wednesday in time for the evening service at the Blaga Vest church pastored by Ludmil Yatanski. Then, we pack up, get some sleep, and wake up early for a long flight back home!
And that's our busy schedule! Keep us in prayer, especially for health and energy. We look forward to all of these amazing opportunities to serve! God bless

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Camp Equipped

With the month of May wrapping up today, we are now only 29 days away from our departure. Tickets have been purchased, passports have been ordered, and the team's membership finalized. The one new member of our team that I haven't mentioned is young Nehemiah. He will be traveling with his mommy, Linzi, this year! This is a new experience for our team, as we've never traveled with anyone younger than teenagers. Be praying for Linzi, Nehemiah, and the team as we try this experiment and see how it goes!
Our theme at the Black Sea camp this year will be the equipping of God. We are looking at the various tools that God gives us in our spiritual walk in order to carry out His will. We will demonstrate that theme with a different real world tool each day that the teams will have to use in various activities and challenges. For instance, one tool will be the flashlight and we will discuss how God's word is a light that brings us guidance and direction. We will be using shovels, backpacks, canteens, ropes and more to give the kids a fun and challenging camp experience with a scouting feel, while also demonstrating spiritual tools that God has equipped us with to serve Him.
Let me take you through a typical day at camp... The leadership wakes up early for a 7 AM meeting each day to go over the previous day and prepare for the next one. At 7:30, the children are awakened and assemble fifteen minutes later for a quick team challenge to wake them up and introduce their tool for the day. Breakfast is at 8, followed by a time of small group prayer. Then, its off to the beach for the next 3 hours. The camp is only a short distance away, so the entire group walks there and back. We return from the beach just in time for showers and lunch, then its nap time for the younger kids. In the afternoon, there will be an activity involving that day's tool, followed by a drama to present the spiritual lesson of the day. Then, the kids are broken up by age groups and taught from the Word, followed by a craft or game. Dinner starts at 7 PM, followed by the evening service... a time of worship and teaching. The kids then enjoy some free time before going to bed at 10:30. We usually stay up afterward to prepare for the next day and go online to communicate with our families back home. A long day!!
In my next post, I'll share our itinerary for the entire trip so you can see what we're up to besides the camp. God bless!

Friday, May 1, 2015

New Year, Same Vision

Summer is rapidly approaching, which means the team is eagerly planning our next visit to Bulgaria and Macedonia. We're losing a few team members this year as Vernon Garrett and Megan Kern will not be joining us. However, Linzi Drew is planning to return after taking last year off. We've also added a few new teenagers to the team. Leeah Gadd, Haley Jones, and Sara Kerrigan are all new to the team this year and excited about taking this adventure with us!

In addition to our team, we will be working together with another team of Americans from a church in New Mexico. We got to spend some time with the couple that will be leading them and we're really looking forward to sharing the ministry together this year.

We will be leaving on Monday, June 29 and returning on Thursday, July 16. We've got a busy 2 1/2 weeks planned, with a full week spent at the Black Sea as usual for a youth camp with about 60 kids from Bulgaria and Macedonia. The rest of the time will be spent visiting churches in both countries and, oh yeah, we've also got a wedding to attend between a dear Bulgarian friend, Simona Ivanova, and one of our own from Bullhead, Tommy Hein!

I'll try to post something new here each week as we prepare for our journey, and then more often while we're there. Keep us in prayer!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Life at the Black Sea

On Saturday, we drove across Bulgaria to the small town of Chernomorets on the Black Sea coast. We'll be here until next Saturday helping with a camp for over 60 kids from around Bulgaria and Macedonia. Our team is helping watch over and interact with the kids, along with the teaching, games, and crafts.

Our morning begins early here, with a 6:45 meeting for all the adult leaders to discuss and pray about the upcoming day. We wake the kids at 7:30 and eat a hearty breakfast at 8. Then, its off to the beach for 3 hours of fun in the sun. We play in the water with the kids... throwing them in the air, splashing them, and carrying the smaller ones around. When the younger kids go in to the shore for a spell, we play a game called "Ring of Fire" with the older teens that involves a circle of players, a volleyball, and the occasional spike to the head... all in good fun!

By the time we head back to camp, everyone has worked up an appetite so its time for lunch. Meals are plentiful here so nobody leaves the table hungry unless its by choice. After a little free time, the younger kids are sent back to their bungalows for a time of rest and relaxation (aka, nap) and the team usually uses this time to go into town or to prepare for the afternoon's ministry.

At 4, the kids are split up into three groups by age for the afternoon lessons. The camp is using the Chronicles of Narnia book, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" as its theme and the lessons explore a different aspect of the book each day (living in two worlds, friendship, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption, choices, etc.). A number of the lessons will be taught by our team members who will work through a translator to share the message God has given them. After the lessons, there are different activities each day such as, a photo scavenger hunt, a craft, and more. Our team comes alongside the Bulgarian leaders to help out wherever we're needed.

Dinner kicks off at 7, followed by our evening service at 8 pm.  Most of the men on our team will be teaching an evening slot. I shared on Saturday night about Living in Two Worlds and Vernon will be teaching on Temptation and Betrayal this evening. After the service, there are additional activities planned and often some free time to go into town. The little kids get put to bed at 10 pm and the teens follow at 11.

Once everyone is in bed, our team still has ministry work to do. We hide small toys all over the camp for the kids to find in the morning. We also hide a special toy in a difficult to find spot and the one who finds it gets to choose a prize from our goodie bag. Then, there are ministry responsibilities that come up throughout the week.

Last night, we were up to 1 am making bottling root beer. You can't find root beer over here and we want to do root beer floats on Friday night, which is American night.It would have been ridiculous to try and bring the amount of root beer we needed in our suitcases, so we brought yeast (for the carbonation) and root beer extract with us. We got sugar and water here and ran a little assembly line to bottle 18 liters of the stuff last night. The concoction takes a few days for the yeast to do its thing and carbonate the drink, so we'll know more Thursday or Friday and I'll let you know how it turned out.

We get to bed around 12 or 1 am most nights and back up shortly after 6 the following morning to do it all over again! Keep us in your prayer for wisdom and direction, anointing and boldness, and strength to continue ministering in spite of the physical weakness we are all experiencing at one point or another. God is good and we're having a blast!

The ministry here is centered around relationship and example. We have an opportunity to develop real friendships with young people and the adults here, set an example with our love and service, and encourage our church family here in their walks with the Lord. What a privilege it is to be sent by God for such a valuable ministry! I can't wait to share more with you as the week progresses... God bless!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Belated Update

Sorry for the delay in posting this. We have been BUSY! Let me bring you up to speed on what we've been doing...

We arrived on a Tuesday and got a good night's sleep after a long day of traveling. Wednesday, we took the team into Sofia's city center to allow them to unwind and get to know the city we veterans have come to love. That night, we enjoyed listening to pastor Mite Goshev of Macedonia as he taught the word at the Blaga Vest church in Sofia.

Thursday was a completely new experience for our team. We partnered with the Resurrection Church in Fakulteta, a Roma community. The pastor, Nayden Borisov, rented a school's courtyard and brought in a well-known Roma singing group to lead in praise. We were amazed to see about 500 people show up for the event and I had the opportunity to preach a message on following Jesus Christ. Afterward, about 20 people came forward to accept Christ and then we prayed for the sick to be healed. We saw God move in supernatural ways and were truly blessed by the excitement of the Roma people.

On Friday, we took the team to the streets of Sofia and performed a short drama set to music that portrayed the gospel message in a powerful way. We performed the drama several times and plan to do so again at the Black Sea.

That night, we traveled to the village of Elin Pelin and met with the Bozhia Sila church there. Pastor Niki and his wife, Sveta, were away but we enjoyed a great church service with our family in that town. Afterward, we enjoyed several more hours of fellowship at a nearby restaurant before heading home.

Finally, on Saturday, we drove across the country to the Black Sea town of Chernomorets for a weeklong childrens camp. I'll bring you more on that in my next post. Keep us in prayer and God bless!

До скоро виждане! (See you soon!)
-Pastor Mike

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We're Here!

24 hours after leaving Bullhead City, the team has arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria and is now getting some much needed rest. We flew out of Las Vegas early Monday morning with stops in Newark, New Jersey and Munich, Germany before landing at the airport here in Bulgaria's capital city.

We just got back from a great pizza dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and now everyone is grabbing some sleep. It's 9:30 and, even though the sun hasn't fully set yet, eyelids are drooping (or downright sealed shut). I'll have more to share tomorrow but, for now, I just want to make sure everyone knows we got here ok so I can hit the hay as well.

Leka Nosht (Good Night)!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sharing the Gospel in Fakulteta

Two years ago, we had the opportunity to visit Fakulteta for the first time. I had learned about the area on the Internet and we decided to pay an exploratory visit to learn more. We spent an afternoon walking through the area, played some music, shared Jesus and prayed with people on the streets, and visited two churches in the community. One of those churches was the Revelation Church pastored by Nayden Borisov. We returned the following year and helped the congregation with some construction and spent a day in fellowship. We're planning to return this year and partner with them in an evangelistic event to share the hope of Christ with the Romani.

I've written on this blog before about the plight of the Roma people (or, gypsies) in Bulgaria. Facing heavy discrimination, they deal with high illiteracy and unemployment rates, as well as poor living conditions in segregated areas. Most of the Roma people in Bulgaria either live in villages that are almost exclusively Romani, or in segregated areas of the larger cities referred to as "mahalas." The mahala is essentially a ghetto, which is defined as, "a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure."

The second-largest mahala in Bulgaria is Fakulteta, located in the capital city of Sofia. About 30,000 people live in an area of only a few square miles. The neighborhood has limited utilities and other resources but is a thriving community of people who are ripe for the gospel. The Revelation Church has a small building in the heart of the mahala from which the gospel is going forth, not only into Fakulteta, but to Roma communities throughout Bulgaria. In addition to raising up and sending out pastors, the church also feeds 30-40 children each day.

We are partnering with the church this year to hold a one-night evangelistic event in order to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. Borisov has secured a stage with lighting and sound and has begun advertising the event. We will be gathering together on Thursday, July 3 at 7:00 pm (that's 9 am, Thursday morning, for those of you in Arizona who want to be praying for us). The program will include an hour of praise, followed by a drama presentation and then I (Pastor Mike) will preach. Afterward, we will provide an opportunity for people to come to Christ and we will pray for the sick.

The event will be a little outside of our comfort zone for most of us from Calvary Bullhead as it is unlike anything we've done here. The church we are working with is definitely of a more Pentecostal nature than we are but I have been struck by the godliness and character of the Roma men that I have met from the congregation and am blessed by their vision for their nation. I am proud to come alongside them as they preach Christ Jesus, and Him crucified. Their gospel is our gospel, which is, ultimately, Jesus' gospel. It is an honor to have this opportunity to preach that gospel to a people who are hungry for it and I pray for the Lord to bring forth remarkable fruit. Please be praying with me!