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!


  1. Good stuff Mike. I appreciate your heart and what you wrote

  2. Thank you for your love for Bulgaria!