Thursday, August 13, 2009

Counting the Cost

Luke 14:28-30 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?

Our team member, Kenne, got home a few weeks ago after spending an extra two weeks in Bulgaria with the Robnetts. While he was there, he spoke with the pastor of the Blaga Vest church in Sofia about returning next year and staying for a year to volunteer in their soon-to-open childrens' daycare program.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What I Learned on the Other Side of the Planet...
(or, Why We Do What We Do)

Sitting here on the plane over the Atlantic Ocean, I can already feel the emotions and memories from the last two weeks slipping away. As we get closer and closer to home, its as if my mind is switching itself into a completely different reality. I dread ever returning to "normal" after all I have seen, heard, and been a part of over the last two weeks. Instead, I hope that the amazing things God has been working out in my heart will return with me and change every aspect of my life moving forward.

For instance, I return with a renewed sense of urgency regarding prayer. How we as Christians can settle for a prayerless walk with God amazes me, having experienced the amazing strength and presence of God that is found in daily, continual prayer. However, I have been here before and allowed my prayer life to become dull and routine. I don't want to go back to that again! I have tasted the goodness of a life lived in prayer… please Lord, don't let me forget it!

I was also encouraged regarding my calling as a teacher and preacher of God's word. I was given two opportunities to teach while in Bulgaria: Once in the church at Elin Pelin and another at the camp's evening service on the last night. Both times reinforced in my mind and heart that this is what God has called me to do with my life. I also had numerous opportunities to counsel and share God's word with teens at the camp in one-on-one conversations and really experienced the Holy Spirit giving me the words and scripture needed for the discussions at hand. It was amazing to see how God ministered to those kids and use me to do it. I was honored and humbled at the same time, fully realizing that it was all God.

I can say with absolute conviction that God has called our congregation to this work in Bulgaria. What we are doing there is hugely important, not only to the Church in Bulgaria, but to our body as well. I realize that some in our church still wonder what exactly we are doing in Bulgaria and often as a team we have struggled to communicate that vision. I hope and pray that as you followed along in the blog and our various Facebook postings, you at least got a taste of the work that is being done. However, our mission is about much more than physical labor on behalf of our Bulgarian brethren. Our primary focus is on relationship.

In many ways, the Church in Bulgaria is working alone, still finding its way out of the darkness of Communism. Unfortunately, many American missionaries have stepped into this void to do work without commitment. One of our dear Bulgarian friends related that she initially distrusted our team because she had seen so many Americans show up to do their "mission" just to return home and brag about the work they did in Bulgaria, but never returning. The Bulgarian Church needs to be shown that they are part of the worldwide body of Christ. If we are going to stand with them in ministry, we must be willing to commit to that relationship for the long haul. That is what our congregation has done and our team truly stands out in their minds. They know we are there because of our love for them. (John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.)

We have committed to a long-term relationship of support and camaraderie that is very important to their perception, not only of us, but of the Church in America and worldwide. Will the Church come to their side in their hour of need, or leave them to go it alone, aside from the occasional missionary trip for brownie points? We won't do that! When we go to Bulgaria, our ministry is far more than painting buildings or running a Vacation Bible School in a kid's camp. Year after year, we are expressing a desire to share in their burdens, whatever they may be. We are demonstrating that we are family and that we want to be a part of the great work God is doing both in them and through them.

This nation will be reached with the gospel because, through all that the country has been through, God has preserved a remnant faithful to Him. Now, that remnant has grown into fully functional churches led by and filled with people who love God and desire His will more than anything else. They are winning back their countrymen from the lies of Communism and false religion and the Church in Bulgaria will continue to grow through their labors, by the power of God.

We are privileged to be able to stand with them in those labors in any way, however small. We have much to learn from our Bulgarian family as they demonstrate unswerving faithfulness to the call in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Here, with all our freedom to evangelize and live our faith, in our churches that are rich with resources and full of people, we often fail to be the Church that God has called us to be. We are becoming irrelevant in our culture because people do not see in us what the Church is meant to be. We are not demonstrating Christ's power and love to the world around us, and we have nothing else to offer! May we learn from the Church in Bulgaria, and elsewhere in the world, that this work we build is not our own nor do we have what it takes to build it. We must become absolutely dependent on Christ to supply both the direction and the power to build His Church as He sees fit. Only then will we see the amazing things that have marked His people since the beginning.

One day, we will all stand before our Lord and He will not care if we are American, or Bulgarian, or Mexican, or African… He will only look at what we have built and how we have built it. Our works will be tried be fire and their true value displayed for all to see. It is so easy, in our culture of prosperity and seeming spirituality, to look at all we have and do and assume that we are building the Church. But whose church are we buiding… God's or our own? Let us remain faithful to His work, both here and around the world, and join hands with our Christian family everywhere to see the work completed in a way that would please our Heavenly Father!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thoughts on the Way Home
Linzi, Marinna, & Megan

Here are thoughts from some of the team while coming home...

Linzi Jo

There are so many things I could say about this trip. I could go on for days. But if I had to break it down to a couple of things I can. Who touched my life? There is a teacher at the camp who I have known for a few years, but I have never really gotten a chance to get to know her. She came up to me on the last day of camp and she hugged me and didn't let go. She told me that she was so impressed with me. She said she can see that God has given me a gift with kids, and she can see that we truly love them. She told me that she was proud of me and she loved me. That moment was worth all the bugs!

How did God use me? Wow, how didn't He use us? Before we left for Bulgaria, we wrote a letter to God asking or just praying about our trip. I got mine and read it and I saw that God did answer my prayer. I prayed that He would use me any way He could and He did. I painted a mural, did a mini purity conference, I helped with the kids, I ministered to a friend. I asked to grow closer to Him and that happened too. God revealed many things to me; things I didn't know about myself. I am a new person, a young woman of Christ.

The last night in Bulgaria, I was talking with our girls and I said, "You see whyBulgaria?" and with tear-filled eyes they said yes. I see the impact we made on the kids and people of Bulgaria, and I also see the impact God had on our kids' lives through the people of Bulgaria and I am so thankful for that.


This trip has been a life chagning experience for me. I saw so much of God... it's amazing! I never thought I would see so much of Him in a moment, but He's God. Bulgaria is more than a country we go to each year... it's a desparate place where God seems hidden. In America, they say how much we need God and it's true, but people know about Him here and He's everywhere... we're just so distracted by other things that we don't see Him. But in Bulgaria, you never see signs or churches or anything.

Not only did Bulgaria need the team and I, but I needed Bulgaria. I was in this tight shell that I needed to break, but I didn't have anything hard enough to break it. When I saw those kids and how much of a relationship they wanted from us, I couldn't stay in the shell. So I prayed to God to help me. "Help me open up and be a part of their lives," and with that desire it was easy. I wasn't afraid anymore.

Not only did I open up with the kids, but with my team as well. They have never seen the real Marinna before but, on this trip, they did and they told me what a blessing it really was. So God brings us to change the world and in that I think we are changed as well. I know I did!

I thank God every day for what He has done for me and I loved the way He did it. He did it through the kids. I love those kids with all of my heart. They are just so amazing! From 7 to 19 years old, they touched me in ways I can't even describe... but I can tell you this: They love God so much. More than I have seen in adults. And that speaks to me. Thank you God for everything you have done in my life and I can't wait to see what else you have in store.


For me, this trip to Bulgaria has been a huge learning experience. Even though I was there to teach the kids, I feel like I'm coming home a new person. I've gotten a lot closer to God through prayer. The whole camp was about praying and God really used that to speak to me. I'm now praying about everything, even things that would have seemed small before. I also learned a lot about family and teamwork.

When we first arrived in Sofia, I immediately saw open arms from people I didn't know. Even the small things like being introduced informally had a big impact on me. I realized that even in Bulgaria, all of God's children are united through Him. I felt like part of the family as soon as we met.

When we were at camp, I loved how there were no age barriers. Teenagers were friends with little kids and didn't think twice about it. Itzo (Pastor Ludmil's son) especially made a big impression on me because he was taking care of the kids and he wasn't even related to them. One of the things I love the most about Bulgaria is that they are one big family. I am really going to miss all fo the incredible people I've met! I can't wait to see what God does in all of our lives.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vance, the Hillbilly Moses

In keeping with our bayou theme, Vance plays the part of Moses...

More Pics...

The sleeping quarters were the worst of it though. We didn't come to sleep, we came to serve the kids! Here are some pics of the team loving what we do:

Pictures From Camp

We are now back in Sofia and I will write more about our camp experience later, but first I want to share some pictures...

First up, the camp itself. This is the bungalow that Joey and I stayed in. Very rustic...

Although it looks like the bungalow sleeps two, we actually shared it with about 10 or twenty... spiders, mosquitos, and other bugs. Seriously, Joey woke up one morning and swept an inch-long spider off his bed that he had crushed in the night. When we sprayed the room with bug spray, we got 4-5 visible ones as well. The bathroom is pretty much what you see in the picture: a sink and a toilet with a shower head in between. The drain was a hole in the floor.

More of the Camp at the Black Sea

Greetings again from the land of Bulgaria. I apologize for the lack of updates, but the internet coverage here is spotty at best. We are staying at a camp with bungalows scattered across the grounds, but the only access point is in the main office. From my room, I get one bar (or none) of signal so its always anybody's guess whether the pages will even load all the way. As for uploading pictures and video, the process is almost torturous!

So, I am writing this now in WordPad without internet. Then, I will go over near the office where the signal is stronger to actually post it and upload the accompanying pictures. I would do it all from there, except that the mosquitos (and other insects) would eat me alive during the process!

On to the camp itself... Our time here has been amazing! God is working every day and each of us has had many opportunities to be used by Him in service. Every morning, during our VBS time, one team member performs a drama as a character in that day's bible story. Then the groups split out into games and crafts. Finally, they take part in various workshops organized by our team members. Also, our teens take part in the morning classes with the Bulgarian teens, and each of our teens is speaking once during the week. The rest of our time is spent in helping the Bulgarian leaders manage the camp and, more importantly, building relationships with the children. The kids range in age from 5 to 17 and we make it a point to spread ourselves out and touch them all. They have thoroughly embraced us as friends and are already beginning to dread our separation in two days... so are we!

Today, Vance and I taught on the Passover meal and tied it into Communion. Then, we delivered the gospel message and gave an opportunity for any non-believers to receive the Lord. Two young children accepted Christ! Then, every kid wrote their name on a sticker and some added things they wanted to give up to God. All the stickers were then placed on a cross we had on display. It was such a sweet time to watch them going forward to the cross and soberly placing their names there.

As I mentioned earlier, the relationships we are building are such a huge importance. Just yesterday, I had two different opportunities to minister one-on-one with teenagers who were really struggling with spiritual issues. I was able to bring God's word to bear in both instances and encourage them. It was such a joy, not only to be given the words to speak, but to see the emotions on their faces change through the discussions and watch them walk away with joy! We are truly dependent on God here and He has not disappointed. I pray daily for strength and energy in spite of the lack of rest and God has provided. We are averaging 4-6 hours of sleep a night, yet God gives us the ability to serve all day long without wavering. Yesterday, a preteen girl lost an earring in the street and was crying. We began searching and spent about 20 minutes looking before stopping to pray for a few moments for God's help. 20 seconds later, we found the earring! That's just a small taste of how God has been working in our midst.

Tonight, Joey will be sharing God's word in our evening service and I will wrap up the teaching tomorrow night. Pray for the Holy Spirit to direct us and for open hearts and ears to receive what He wants to say. Continue to lift up the team for strength and health. We have had several people fighting sickness but all seems to be well today. Every one of us needs God's strength though, both physical and mental/emotional. We leave on Sunday to return to Sofia, so pray for traveling mercy as well. Finally, pray for our trip home as it is long and we will be worn out. We are continually grateful for your prayers and support. Please add a comment to this blog as well as on our Facebook pages or via e-mail. Comments to the group are read aloud and offer much encouragement. God bless you all and thank you for supporting us so that we can be here in the middle of the amazing things God is doing!

Слава на Бога (Slava na Boga... Glory to God)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Greetings from Albena!

Woohoo! I finally got internet access here at camp so I can get back to blogging. There's a free wireless access point at the campground we're staying at, but it took two days to find an employee at the reception desk that could give us a password. Anyway, I'm online again and there's so much to share, I hardly know where to start.

The camp changed locations this year from Chernomoretz, on the southern shore of the Black Sea, to Albena up north. We're less than 30 miles from Romania as the crow flies.We have been comparing the two camps a bit and, while this camp definitely has more bugs and spiders, along with patches of stinging nettles, the food is WAAAAYYYYY better and our bungalows get daily maid service (beds are made and things are straightened up). All the returning team members have enjoyed catching up with our friends, and everybody is making new friends as well.

Yesterday, we woke up at 5:30am to load up the vans and head across the country. After a 7 hour trip, we arrived, unpacked, and spent the evening with the kids. This morning, we began our first full day of camp, including our 2 hour daily VBS. Our theme is "Crocodile Dock" and is a bayou, Tom Sawyer-ish theme. Vance performed as a hillbilly version of Moses as he shared the story of meeting God at the burning bush. One of our Bulgarian friends, Eti, translated everything for him to the children. This is required in everything we do, even in our personal conversations many times. After awhile, it becomes second nature to pause every few seconds for the translation. We also did games and crafts, along with breakout workshops for several different projects. Brianna got to share with the Bulgarian teens during the morning teaching session.

In addition to our VBS time, we also spend time daily with the children both at the swimming pool and the beach where we function as the safety monitors. We also enjoy three meals a day with them and some free time throughout as well as an evening service. Worship is being handled by several teens from the Blagavest church and I am assisting on the drum. Pastor Chuck and Lynda taught together on the first night and each night brings a different speaker. Both Joey and I will be given the opportunity to teach the evening service later in the week.

I will bring you more tomorrow, but now I am off to bed. The weather is hot and humid so the big decision is: a) leave the windows open for at least some air movement to cool things down a little, or b) face the heat and shut the windows to keep the mosquitos out. Fortunately, a storm is nearby so we hope the rain will keep and make option A work!

In spite of the bugs, humidity, and other challenges, the team is having an incredible time serving God and the Bulgarian people. Please pray for the Robnett family who are struggling with various illness and injuries. Also, traveling mercies for Pastor Chuck and Lynda, who will be driving to Gabrovo tomorrow to spend some time ministering to an old friend. Lynda's neck has given her some trouble while on the road, so lift that up as well. Above all, pray that God gives each of us the strength and heart for the ministry that lies before us and that doors of opportunity would open and be recognized by each of us through the upcoming week. God is amazing and we are so blessed by all that He is doing here! I will post pics and video clips tomorrow. Leka nosht...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday in Bulgaria

Today was our first Sunday in the country and our team split up for the morning service. Pastor Chuck and Lynda, along with Joey, Barbi, Linzi, and Kenne went to the Blagavest church here in Sofia where Pastor Chuck taught. The rest of us drove out to Elin Pelin and attended church there. After worship, all of the teens introduced themselves and spoke briefly to the congregation. Then Vance and I were given the opportunity to teach. Finally, Pastor Niki delivered some closing remarks. The amazing thing was, without any collaboration, all three of us spoke about the same things. It really is exciting how God works to speak what He wants to His church!

Afterward, the church fed us a huge meal of shopska, kufte, and kebapcha followed by dessert snacks and coffee. We were so amazed by their generous hearts and desire to bless us. I told them that even though we had come to serve them, they were teaching us how to serve. We finally waddled out of there, stuffed with food, and headed back to Sofia to rejoin the group!

We wrapped up the afternoon with a meeting between our teens and the teens from the Sofia church. After getting to know each other and praying together, we spent an hour or two preparing materials for the camp at the Black Sea. We had a great time working and fellowshipping together. While spending time with old friends, it was also a chance to meet many new teens as well.

Tonight, after a short break, we're cleaning our apartment top to bottom and packing everything we need for the Black Sea. Hopefully, we get to bed early because we wake up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to meet with the buses of children and then its off across Bulgaria to Albena for camp. It may be a few days until I update again, depending on internet availability there, but I will write as soon as possible to share all the new things God is doing.

In the meantime, keep us in your prayers and stay in touch. Many of you have been in contact through Facebook and Skype and the connection with all of you at home really helps alot! Also, feel free to leave comments here on the blog (as some of you have done) and I will make sure to read them to the entire team.

Finally, if you have a Facebook account, add me as your friend (Mike Kern) and take one of our "How Well Do You Know the Bulgaria Servant Team" quizzes. They are funny and informative and you will hear about some funny things that aren't mentioned here in the blog. Thank you for your support and God bless!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Elin Pelin

We spent another day today painting in the church here in Sofia. We now have at least a first coat on all five Sunday School rooms and should be able to wrap it all up tomorrow. Linzi has begun the creation of her amazing "Bible Heroes" murals for the walls. Here is a picture of the early stages of her Noah's ark. As I write this at 12:45 in the morning, Joey and Linzi are actually continuing to work on this by the light of a video projector hooked up to my laptop. Now that is a dynamic duo!

After spending about five hours painting and pulling weeds around the church, we cleaned up and headed out to Elin Pelin, a nearby town. There, we spent some time in the home of Pastor Niki, his wife Sveta, and their two great girls, Cali and Viki before heading off to their church. The Friday night service was scheduled at the last minute, but the room was full as the congregation came out to spend time with our team. We enjoyed a great time of fellowship and an even greater time of worship together with them, singing along in our best Bulgarian. Then, Pastor Niki welcomed the team and our pastor taught from God's Word.

Afterwards, we spent an incredible 45 minutes in fellowship with the body before heading off to a nearby pizza restaurant with the pastor's family and some of the church. We visited the same pizzeria last year and it was as great as I remembered. In fact, I've had trouble showing any appreciation for Pizza Hut and Domino's since last year and tonight I remembered why. The food was amazing, but the fellowship was even better. We told stories, laughed together, and shared some fun dinner table games with our Bulgarian friends for about 2 hours. Then, we finally headed home for some much needed rest.
Tomorrow, we plan to wrap up all the painting here in Sofia. Sunday morning, Pastor Chuck will teach in the Blagavest church here in town, while I will have the privilege of teaching at Elin Pelin. Also, some of the teenagers will come along and get the opportunity to share with the congregation as well. Then, Sunday afternoon we meet with the Sofia teens to plan out our activities for the camp at the Black Sea. Finally, Monday morning we are off on a drive across the country to our week at camp.
Even though our schedule is exhausting and physically strenuous, the team continues to be in great spirits. our group devotional time each morning has been a great time of teaching and sharing and everybody is so excited to see what God is doing. Although our labors around the church have been appreciated, the real ministry has been in our relationships with the people here. It has been so amazing to see our Bulgarian friends blessed, encouraged, and helped by our visit. Truly, the relationships between our church bodies has been edifying for all!
Please continue to pray for the team for strength (physical, emotional, and spiritual). We covet your prayers and are so grateful for those of you that have made time each day to lift us up before the Lord. You probably have no idea how much your prayers are a part of the ministry that is taking place over here but we could not do what we are doing or see what we are seeing without you! We love you and thank you for your support.
Благодаря и слава на Бога!
(Blagodarya ee slava na Boga... Thank you and glory to God!)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Our First Day is Done

It's almost 11pm here and the team is wrapping up its first day. We spent the afternoon painting the Sunday School rooms in the new Blagavest church where we are staying. Tomorrow we will finish up the rooms and Linzi will direct the painting of murals in several classrooms. She will be working with a "Heroes of the Bible" theme and has planned rooms decorated with Noah's ark and Daniel in the lions' den. I will share pictures of her handiwork tomorrow evening.

We also had a great time catching up with (and meeting, for our new crew) old friends. Several people came by to see us here at the church building while we painted and, after painting, we walked over to the nearby apartments where several more live. One friend, Rali, led the way to a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed an amazing traditional Bulgarian meal. We ate, and played, and laughed and just had an incredible time together of food and fellowship.

Tomorrow, it's back to painting and possibly a visit to nearby Elin Pelin to visit Pastor Niki and his wife Sveta. Everybody continues to be in good spirits and we look forward to every opportunity to serve. Keep us in your prayers and especially pray for us to have a servant's heart in all that we do. Good night!

Our First Morning

After a long sleep-in to catch up on our rest, the team has arisen and is getting our day started. Pastor Ludmil has been in to see us and plan out the day. Coffee and food have been consumed, morning devo's done, and in an hour or so we are going to be painting in the new Blagavest church.

Tonight, we are expecting to go visit the gypsy church in Stolnik with Pastor Niki. We're a little worried about transportation since we're about two seats short with the vehicles we've got. We'll figure it out and make it work though. Somebody may end up on somebody's lap!Everybody is in great spirits and we're all just glad to be here... finally! We're ready to hit the ground running and eagerly looking forward to reuniting with the friends we haven't seen yet as well as all the new relationships we'll be building here.

Marinna was asked about her first impressions of Bulgaria and noted that everything is beautiful, "even the dirt." She enjoyed hearing her first Bulgarian speakers as well.

Megan related that our Bulgarian brothers and sisters are very warm. They make you feel very comfortable and "... are your friends as soon as you meet them!"

Richard was struck by the driving here. "California-ish... but worse," is how he described it. He loves the architecture that he observed driving through downtown Sofia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

We Made It!

After 30+ hours of travel time, we have finally arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria and are getting settled in. Our flight to Munich, Germany was delayed causing us to miss our connection to Sofia. Seven hours later, we caught the next flight which then sat on the tarmac for another half hour because of bad weather. Finally, though, were here.

We were met at the airport by Vance and a bunch of our Bulgarian friends who helped transport us and our luggage to our rooms. Now that we've reunited with the Robnetts, our team feels whole again. We're staying in an apartment built on the top floor of the new Blagavest church. The rooms are great, and the shower was even greater! We've got wireless internet access, so blog updates should be regular while we are here in Sofia.

However, right now its 1:40 in the morning here (3:40 pm there in BHC) and we're off to bed! Keep praying for us!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sitting in the Airport

We're sitting at our gate waiting for the first leg of our flight to Chicago O'Hare... Then, on to Munich, and finally Sofia tomorrow. Here's a quick pic of everybody hanging around waiting to board...

We got here this morning in time for breakfast, then off the the security checkpoint where Megan got her bag searched (tuna cans!). No real problems so far though and everybody is in good spirits. Keep praying for us and I'll try to keep everybody updated as we travel...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Last Night In America

So, I'm laying in bed about fifteen minutes ago and my wife asks me, "Are you excited?" I answered back, "No. I'm tired." Fifteen minutes later, here I sit on the computer posting one last update on the blog before we start our journey!
It's almost 11:30pm and we've got to get up at 5:30 in the morning. Then, its off to Pastor Chuck's house where we'll assemble the team, load up our luggage, and hit the road for Vegas. Excited? I wish I could fast forward the next six hours and just hit the road already!!

Today was filled with last-minute activity just knowing the whole time that I'll probably forget something of vital importance and just have to make do on the other side of the world without whatever it is... I'd probably forget my head at home if it weren't so firmly attached to my shoulders. Megan and I packed up our suitcases, along with our supply suitcases and our carry-ons. Now they're all sitting neatly by the front door waiting for us to grab them on the way out in the morning.

I think I got all the suitcases under the 50 lb. limit, but my carry-on weighs more than I do! I started with a change of clothes just in case... you never know what's gonna happen to the luggage between Munich and Sofia :-) Then, my Bulgarian/English bible went in followed by snacks. Now, my wife was incredibly generous with her snack purchases this year (probably because her daughter is going!) and I didn't know where to put them all! I ended up splitting them between the carry-on and my suitcase, so I'll be eating well on the way home too... As you can see by the picture, If anybody on the team is suffering from malnutrition, I've got it covered! Finally, I tossed a few books in to keep me company and stuffed some basic meds and such in the outer pockets. Tomorrow morning, I'll toss in my tablet PC and 3 extra batteries, which I'll be charging all night. If I get on the plane and it starts leaning toward the side I'm sitting on, you'll know why! ;-)
Hopefully, everybody else on the team is nestled snug in their beds right now dreaming of куфте (kufte... Bulgarian sausage patties). Megan went to bed an hour or two ago, but who knows if she's actually sleeping! I'm assuming everybody's packed by now, but it wouldn't surprise me if one or two people were still up trying to stuff in one more thing without going over 50 lbs. I talked to Pastor Chuck, Linzi, and Kenne today and they're all packed up and ready to go. On the other hand, Joey was going for the last minute pack like I usually do (don't know why I started yesterday... I usually wait until about an hour before leaving!). I hope Shae, Richard, and Marinna are good to go... guess we'll see in the morning.
Well, enough of my late night rant. I'll take some pics on the trip and post an update as soon as possible. If wireless internet doesn't cost too much, I may post an update from one of the airports. Otherwise, we're supposed to have internet where we're staying in Sofia, so I'll fill you all in when we get there.
I guess I'll try to get a little sleep tonight, or at least close my eyes for awhile and think about Bulgaria...
лека нощ (leka nosht... good night)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Running Out Of Time!

Wow! Time is flying by... Only two weeks until we leave and it seems like a million things still need to be done. We've planned out our VBS for the week we'll be spending with Bulgarian kids at their summer camp on the Black Sea. However, planning is only half the battle... now we have to collect and prepare everything that we need to take over with us.

We're doing a bayou, kinda "Tom Sawyer" styled, theme for the week and we'll be relating the story of how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Our daily topics include GOD IS WITH US, GOD IS POWERFUL, GOD DOES WHAT HE SAYS HE'LL DO, GOD GIVES US LIFE, and GOD CARES FOR US. We've got great lessons and activities planned for each day and we're even going to do an "Amazing Race" challenge based on the ten plagues!

Of course, all the activities, games, and object lessons require supplies and costumes so everybody is scrambling to collect everything they'll need. I'm going to do a monologue lesson as the Pharoah on one day, but with the bayou theme, we're going for more of a "Col. Sanders" look. I hit a thrift store in Oceanside last week and found the perfect jacket and pants for it. Throw in a white shirt and bow tie with a straw hat and some powder in my hair and beard... Good to go! Also, we're all scrounging for overalls, cut-off jeans, and straw hats to wear during our time every day.

It's a little unnerving because you can't just whip up something you forgot at the last minute... home is going to be 6500 miles away! We have to nail down every little detail before we leave. Of course, some supplies can be obtained over there, but their stores are completely different and not everybody speaks English, nor do we have a lot of free time for shopping.

The other issue is packing... we have to FIT all those supplies in our suitcases to get them there! International travel allows us two suitcases each in checked baggage, plus a carry-on. Everyone on the team has to pack for two weeks using only one suitcase so we can use our additional suitcase for supplies. Hopefully, we can pack everything we need into ten suitcases! Last year, we had a packing party where we all brought our second piece of luggage and we loaded up everything we had to take... it was tight!

Continue to pray for us as we wrap up these last weeks of preparation. Pray for peace of mind and strong organizational skills. Also, if you have any props or clothing that fit our theme and you'd like to help out, talk to one of us. Finally, take a moment to grab one of the team members when you see them at church or around town and tell them that you're praying for them and following along on the blog. It means the world to us to know that we have your support and thoughts as we go. Thanks!

14 more days!!

More Memories From Last Year

Here are some more pictures and memories from last year's trip. Hope you enjoy!

We were washing windows but i could not reach the top so we made it work. The thing that was so great was we were about 6 story's up. pastor Ludmil was saying "shut the window please please shut the window! dont lose shae" hahha it was so great.

(Linzi White)

One of my Favorite times in Bulgaria. I love worship music in any language.

(Joey Leslie)

Hank getting water for Hannah and Jordan. We were painting in the new Blagovest church in Sofia. It was hot work so cold water was nice.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memories From Last Year...

Recently, the team began adding comments to some of our pics from last year in our private group on Facebook. I thought it would be nice to share those pics, and our memories, here on the blog for everyone to enjoy. I'll share a couple each day when I don't have something else to write about... Here goes!

We all wrote messages and stuck them in the unfinished walls of the Blagovest church. How amazing it will be to one day sit in the finished sanctuary and be able to look to where I know it lays! My verse was Psalm 127:1... "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it..."

(Mike Kern)

The day this picture was taken was one of my favorite memories of BG. I was painting the walls of the church and felt such a joy in my heart. I knew the Lord had given me a gift in painting and now i was using that to bless others. It was almost an overwhelming feeling to see how the Lord took our gifts and our passions and used them that trip. He took my love for art and painting to bless the church of sofia. That day we also went to the gypsy village. It was the most amazing thing. Barbi was not there to help us do things with the kids, and we didnt know we needed some thing prepared. They asked about a game, so we made them up, then we were told hte kids were too loud we needed something quieter. So i said hannah tell a story we will take care of the rest. She began telling the story of David and Goliath. I was the giant and shae was David, Sara was the king and it was great. Shae swung her purse at me and i hit the grown hard! the kids just laughed an laughed. We did Noahs ark next, me and shae were every animal in the book! The kids had so much fun and we were so blessed. I saw the Lord use our gift of working with children. We used his word and our silly attitudes to make the story real and they loved it. That was my favorite day in bg by far!

(Linzi White)

This is Eti, she translates for us when we are teaching the kids at the camp... We were doing a Hawaiian theme that year. We brought the kids sand dollars and told them the story of Jesus using the sand dollar. Our main focus was to teach them that God has shown His love for us and His message of salvation in all of creation. We just have to look closely and pay attention and then we will see His "fingerprints" on our world. We will take it a little further this year and challenge the kids daily to be looking for "God sightings"... to pay attention to the things He does in our lives everyday, we often miss these things because we are not looking for them. This is our teams challenge to everyone. How have you seen God in your life today? Then tell somebody, in this way we are encouraged that God is at work in ours lives and we encourage others as well.

(Barbie Robnett)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yard Sale Today!

Day One of our final two-day yard sale has begun. As the sun slips over the horizon behind us we rub the sleep from our eyes and marvel at how many yard sale junkies are venturing out at 6 am! Right now, we're enjoying the cool morning air but yesterday was almost 110 degrees so we're bound to be a bit warm later.

Even though its Friday, most of the team is out in force (those with the day off) and the mood is cheerful, even at this awful hour. Customers have been trickling in by two's and three's at a steady pace and our travels are growing by a few dollar bills at a time.

Our "Team Member of the Day" award goes out to Marinna Hunt who is up early and spending her birthday outdoors selling other people's stuff to complete strangers. Happy 15th, Marinna! Or, in Bulgarian... Chestit Rozhden Den!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Down to the Wire

We're under eight weeks now to our departure for Bulgaria and we're almost at the point of no return for determining who will make up the final team. Our airline tickets have to be purchased in full by the end of next week so May 15th is the deadline for each team member to have raised $1700. As it stands right now, three of our team members have commitments from family members to meet the need, one teen is still waiting for parental permission to go, and another three team members are desperately short of the necessary funds. We also have one teenager who is still waiting on a birth certificate to obtain a passport.

Please keep the team in prayer for these needs! We understand that God opens doors and closes doors, so we eagerly wait on Him to see how He will build His team this year. Pray especially for those who feel God has called them to go but have not yet seen the provision for that calling. If you are able, consider whether you might be able to support them financially as well.

As I wrote this, it occurred to me that I have not named the team at any point yet in this blog. This group has been meeting together in training meetings, language lessons, and fundraiser activities for several months now in preparation for our trip. They are:

Pastor Chuck & Lynda Kelly
Vance & Barbi Robnett
Brianna Robnett
Brad Robnett
Mike Kern
Megan Kern*
Joey Leslie
Linzi White
Jordan Hunt
Marinna Hunt*
Kenne Probst
Shae Pottmeyer
Richard Marquis*
(* first-year team members)

On a side note, the Robnetts are going over with the team but will be staying in Bulgaria for 3 months as a family. Please make sure to keep them in prayer even after the team returns as God has granted them this extended time of ministry.

If you have any questions about the ministry we do in Bulgaria, or just want to hear some amazing stories about what God is doing over there, please talk to any of the team who have been there and we will be soooo happy to share!

Only 54 more days!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Говорите ли Български? (Do you speak Bulgarian?)

One of the most enjoyable preparations for the trip has been learning the Bulgarian language. Prior to going last year, I took the time to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and some basic phrases. While in Bulgaria, I learn a few more phrases and became more comfortable reading the signs and such. When I left, I determined to learn much more before returning. Fortunately, God has provided an excellent instructor in Barbi Robnett, who has been taking professional lessons for some time now. She has begun passing on her knowledge to interested most of the members of our team in weekly lessons on Wednesday evenings before church.

Of course, most of the people we meet in Bulgaria speak at least some English, but some, including most of the gypsy people, do not. Even a basic vocabulary in their native tongue allows us to connect through conversation. Since building relationships is the primary focus of our ministry, the ability to communicate with each other is a pretty big deal.

However, conversation is not the only reason for learning the language. Far too often, Americans venture forth into the world as ambassadors of... well, Americanism! As citizens of a self-sufficent and prosperous superpower, we can easily demonstrate an unconscious lack of humility when dealing with other cultures. It is easy to assume that our ways are the best ways and that the world speaks English because of our global influence. Such arrogance is hardly conducive to ministry! Many in the world are automatically suspicious of American motives anytime we advance beyond our own borders. As citizens of God's kingdom and His ambassadors, we must seek a better way. By taking time to learn the language of those we serve amongst, we demonstrate humility and unity with our fellow laborers. I have seen firsthand as Bulgarian hearts were opened to their American brothers and sisters in Christ by something as simple as us attempting to sing along with them in their own language during a worship service.

One day, we will all communicate together effortlessly in some heavenly tongue without translators or interpretation errors. The language, cultural, and physical barriers will drop as we give up our temporary eartly citizenships and go home to the kingdom where our ultimate allegiances lie. Until then, we must do all that we can to make those barriers as meaningless as possible.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Challenge and Joy of Fundraising

One of the biggest obstacles the team faces as we prepare to minister in Bulgaria is the cost of going. With airfare, ground transportation, lodging and food, the yearly trip represents a $25-30,000 annual investment. Of course, every single one of us believe strongly that it is highly worth it, otherwise we wouldn't be going! However, God's calling to serve in Bulgaria is often accompanied by a real test of faith as individuals seek the means to obey that calling. God has blessed some members of our body with that calling to go and the financial means to do so without concern. For most of the team, though, the expense is a major hurdle. The old maxim, "Where the Lord guides, the Lord provides" is certainly true but becomes personally real to the team member who steps out in faith by signing up to go, then looks at an empty wallet and wonders how.

Over the years, the team has adopted several fundraising methods. The teenagers are all encouraged to write a letter explaining why they are taking the trip and what costs are involved. These letters are then sent to their family and friends. First-time members also share their calling with the church body in a letter as well. Traditionally, these letters account for the most significant funds raised. Another traditional fundraiser has been the yearly yard sale to support the ministry. Many in the church donate items to sell and the team holds the yard sale in the church parking lot on several weekends. This has been well supported by the body with donations and staffing and has also been quite successful as a fundraiser. Additionally, throughout the year the sale of bottled water in the foyer on Sunday mornings supports the ministry and the church's website now features the ability to donate to the cause online.

This year, the team is trying several new things as well. Earlier this year, a circus/daycare was held at the church, giving parents an opportunity to be "kid-free" for a day. The team provided circus-themed enertainment for all the children and everyone had a blast! In May, a neighborhood carnival will be held at Mohave Accelerated Learning Center on Marina Blvd. This outdoor event will feature live entertainment, fun carnival games, and contests and is intended to draw from the surrounding community.

With the economy in decline, we made it a goal this year to focus more of our fundraising efforts on the community outside of our church body. The congregation has always been amazing in their support of this ministry, but in addtion to Bulgaria, they are also seeing fundraising requests from the youth group and childrens ministries along with the expenses incurred by the other ministry activities and events of the church. To that end, we have directed most of our attention to fundraising efforts that spread the need throughout our community. The letters, yard sale, and carnival are all aimed at reaching out beyond our church body to seek God's provision.

Realistically, all of our fundraising efforts as a team bring in only a fraction of the required amount. However, the activities themselves are far more important than the finances they raise. Instead of being about making money, the fundraising events are actually a critical part of the team's training process. It is in the planning and doing of these activities that we learn to work together as a team. Our individual strengths and weaknesses are revealed and relationships are built. We learn to support and encourage each other and discover how to work through the irritating and annoying personality traits we each possess. The two weeks we spend together in Bulgaria as a team are simply an extension of the months we have already spent working and serving together.

Ultimately, where God guides us, He does provide as we step out in faith and obedience. The exciting part is that He provides, not only the finances to go, but the training and equipping the team needs to go well! We are so grateful to the body and everyone else who has supported this ministry financially. We are even more grateful for those who encourage and support the team and pray for us, both as we prepare at home and as we serve in Bulgaria. You are as much a part of this minstry as we are! God bless you all...

62 more days!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Field Trip to a Bulgarian Restaurant

Last night, the whole team, along with our families, made a trek up to Las Vegas for a dinner of traditional Bulgarian food. We were also joined by the Fulton family. Linzi was away on a camping trip and Jordan was unable to attend as the drive from Bible College is a bit too far. Pastor Chuck and Lynda regretted being able to join us, but since they were actually in Bulgaria, we figured they were getting a good taste of the stuff anyway!

The Restaurant Magurata in Las Vegas offers authentic Bulgarian cuisine and was a great way to prepare the newbie's on the team for the food they'll be eating while we're there. We enjoyed such traditional dishes as kabapche, kufte, shopska, and tarator along with a few others. It was alot of fun passing plates and bowls back and forth so everybody could try everything! The newcomers all did quite well with the new flavors and nobody went home hungry.

My daughter, Megan, enjoyed the pork and chicken kebabs most of all while my personal favorites were the kufte and tarator. I've actually been thinking about making my own tarator for awhile and last night inspired me to get cracking in the next week or so.

For those reading this blog who are unfamiliar with these foods, let me share some brief descriptions:

Kufte - Small patties of grilled meat, usually beef and pork

Kebapche - Grilled spiced sausages

Shopska - Traditional Bulgarian salad consisting of tomatoes and cucumbers with feta cheese

Tarator - Cold cucumber soup in yoghurt base flavored with dill and walnut

The dinner was a great time of food, fun, and fellowship and the team truly appreciated the bonding experience. It was great to have the families along as well to share in our joy of all things Bulgarian and get a taste (literally) of the culture we've grown to love so much!

Only 73 more days until we leave!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Our first blog posting

Welcome to the official blog for the Servant Trip 2009 to Bulgaria from Calvary Chapel Bullhead City, AZ in the United States of America. This blog will serve as a communications tool to inform both the body in Bulgaria and our own church body back home in Arizona. Not only will everyone be able to follow along with us as we prepare to take the love of Christ to the other side of the planet, but they will be able to take the journey with us as well, sharing in the amazing experience that lies ahead.

Why do we as a church send a team to Bulgaria year after year? While I hesitate to speak for the entire team on this subject, I personally have two answers to that question:

Short answer- We do so out of obedience. God has specifically called our church body, and individuals within that body, to serve in this way. To not respond to that call would be disobedience.

Long answer- We do so as one part of the Body encouraging another part of the Body. Just as my hand scratches my back when there is an itch, or my legs carry my weary head to bed at night, the individual parts that make up the Body of Christ have a responsibility to support, encourage, and edify each other. None of us should walk through this life alone and it is a privilege to share in fellowship with another group of believers the amazing things God is doing in our time. While the nation of Bulgaria only recently left a period of opression where the free practice of our faith was strongly discouraged, it is exciting to see the great work our Lord is building there and the people He has chosen to build it. We are honored to share in that work in any way possible and look forward, every year, to rekindling our relationships with the Church in Bulgaria.

So, continue to pray for our team and pray for the Church throughout the nation of Bulgaria. We look forward to sharing our experiences with those who are sending us!