Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day at Stolnik

Linzi painting
Today was an awesome kickoff to our trip. We came to serve the Body of Christ here and spent the day at Stolnik, a small Roma (gypsy) village about 20 minutes outside of Sofia. Pastor Niki Vassilev, with his wife Tsveta, leads the church, in addition to another one in nearby Elin Pelin. Niki has a genuine heart for the gypsy people that is rare among the Bulgarians and it has always been a real joy to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Stolnik.

Bulgarian scaffolding :-)
We showed up today to paint a wall of their church with one of Linzi's now famous murals. She designed a piece with illustrations from various bible stories including: the feeding of the five thousand, water turned into wine, Jesus calming a storm, Calvary and the tomb. The girls also added a section listing more than 30 names for God from scripture, with some help from Pastor Niki's daughters Cali & Viki, and their friend Iva. The girls got about half the painting done, so we are going to be returning early in the morning to finish the painting.
Half of the partially finished mural
Vern Garrett: Grass Grim Reaper
Meanwhile, the guys helped to clear the lot that the church is on. It has a lot of unused space that had become heavily overgrown. Everything is green in Bulgaria and the weeds grow like... well, weeds! The grass was freshly trimmed using an actual scythe, Grim Reaper-style. Vernon gave it a whack, but learned quickly that, while Pastor Niki made it look easy, it only looked that way.

Chopping down a stubborn tree
We raked the grass into piles, then tackled the edge of the property which was covered in dense, thorny vines and unwanted trees. Its amazing what you can accomplish with an axe, two pitchforks, and a scythe with lots of manpower and hearts to serve! We chopped trees down and dragged them away, and covered our arms and legs in nicks and scratches from the thorny vines, but it was all worth it! A good hard days' work serving our Stolnik family. We were blessed to be used by the Lord to bless them and overjoyed to be knee-deep in the work get sent us to do.
Is there a landscaper in the house?
Roy getting some hard work done

Megan with gypsy kids
Brittany with gypsy kids
In the evening, the congregation gathered for their weekly service. The kids stayed outside for games and activities with a lot of our team, along with bible stories read and acted out for them. It was a joy to see our group effectively communicating God's Word even through the language barrier (the Roma children do not generally enjoy the same schooling as the Bulgarians and very few speak any English at all). Watching Brijon, a first-timer, relate the story of Noah and the ark through a translator to those kids was awesome and Brittany, our other first-timer, dived right in as well, helping wherever she was needed.

Brijon babysits everywhere!
Meanwhile, in the church we worshipped together with our Bulgarian and gypsy brethren and then I shared a word from 1 Corinthians 3. The message addressed the difference between carnal and spiritual Christians and looked at the need for growth and maturity in our walks with the Lord. This is often a real challenge in the Roma churches and I hope the message challenged and encouraged our brothers and sisters to a closer, deeper walk with the Lord. After the message, members of the congregation shared several testimonies of God's powerful work in their lives and the church prayed for several needs in the body. When the service ended, our team treated everyone to American-style grilled hot dogs (Bar-S Jumbo) complete with American mustard and ketchup (theirs is very different). We hung out and fellowshipped for an hour or so.
Linda helps with painting
Hey, who gave him a ladder?
 One last cool story to end our day. My first trip here was 4 years ago in 2008. That year at the Black Sea camp, I met a young gypsy kid named Niki. We had a great time at camp and became friends. Then, we visited Stolnik after returning to Sofia and I got to see him again, making sure to take my picture with him. That was the last I saw of him. This is pretty standard with many of the gypsy kids because of the difficult home life they come from. However, tonight I saw this really tall teenager walk in that looked vaguely familiar... Yep, it was Niki! I took another picture in front of the trailer that was their old church with my newly rediscovered friend. God is good!
Four years ago with Niki

Today with Niki
Well, off to bed now. Tomorrow we're up early to finish painting, then we will be spending several hours at an orphanage here in Sofia. Finally, we're going to end our day in Elin Pelin for another church service with Pastor Niki and his congregation before heading off to dinner with some of them. Keep us in prayer and may God challenge you to serve your brothers and sisters wherever they may be in your life.

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