Friday, June 29, 2012

Stolnik, An Orphanage, and Elin Pelin

Yesterday (Friday) was another busy for our team. We woke up early and headed back out to the gypsy village of Stolnik to finish painting a mural on one wall of their church walls. Several churches in Bulgaria have been blessed by the amazing artistic gift the Lord has given Linzi Drew and this piece was one of her finest. The mural depicts four miracles of Christ's ministry on earth: The water turned to wine, calming of the storm, feeding the five thousand, and the empty tomb. Each component features a verse reference in Bulgarian to remind the viewers of the deeper truth behind each miracle.

We returned to Sofia in the afternoon to visit an orphanage. For many years, orphanage visits were an annual part of our teams' ministry. We worked with a couple who served regularly in the orphanages, as it is very difficult to get into them on your own. The orphanages are State-run and skeptical of outsiders, as they are underfunded and understaffed so living conditions for the children are not great. The couple we worked with eventually moved away and we lost our opportunity to minister in this arena 5 or 6 years ago.

This year, we located another organization, One Heart BG, that has a heart for these children. They raise funds in the United States and elsewhere to help meet the needs in orphanages across Bulgaria that are often overlooked because of insufficient resources. I contacted their director and was put in touch with an orphanage in Sofia for a visit.

We spend the afternoon hanging out with children, just showing them Christ's love and attention. This particular orphanage recently experienced some controversy with allegations of neglect after one girl there was supposedly found to be pregnant. Apparently, the story was brewing in the media and several reporters were on hand to interview the director about the scandal. While waiting their turn with her, they were treated to a display of God's love and goodness as they watched us with the kids!

We sang songs with them and shared briefly about Jesus' love for them, then spent time playing futbol (soccer) and other games. Brijon was completely in her element and spent most of the as afternoon with her arms full of the little children who flocked to her! It was incredible to watch the Lord use her gifts in that place. Linzi also flourished there, overseeing activities with the children and nurturing them as only Mama Linzi can!

Meanwhile, as the reporters finished up, the director came out and expressed genuine gratitude for our desire to help in a place where the need is so great. Joey then spent some time in her office discussing our ministry and future plans to work with her and this orphanage. He was assisted by our friend and translator, Simona Ivanova of the Blaga Vest congregation. We met Simona last year and she has been with us every day to assist with the language barrier but also to serve alongside us in all that we do. We are encouraged by the opportunity for hands-on discipleship in her life as she works with us!

Before leaving the orphanage, we gave the director some supplies we collected in the U.S. for an upcoming trip to the Black Sea that the children will be taking. We brought along almost 20 pairs of brand-new flip-flops, some beach balls and frisbees, and bag full of sunscreen. Pray for God's direction for next year as we consider ways to deepen our relationship here and serve even more effectively.

Finally, we wrapped up the night worshipping with the Elin Pelin congregation in their Friday service. This church, where we began our ministry in Bulgaria many years ago, continues to be a special place of fellowship for our teams. This year, we were blessed by their new worship team with several of their young people singing beautifully accompanied by two guitars and a keyboard. They have a sound system now, but still need some equipment to make it better. When we get home, I will be looking at ways we can help them with that out of our own church's surplus.

Each of our team members was given the opportunity to introduce themselves and share a few words. Then, I shared a message about giving our lives for a cause from the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Afterward, we prayed together with the church then broke for an evening of fellowship. The church fed us a wonderful traditional Bulgarian meal, with Christina making sure that each of us gained at least 10 pounds before we were allowed to leave the table!

For those of you who know Christina (and trust me, once you've met her you never forget her!), you will be blessed to know that her son, Venci, was recently married to a girl named Christiana. She shared the story with us of his engagement. He had decided that he wanted the Lord to choose his wife and asked for direction. Within a short time, all four members of his family had dreams about him marrying a girl in the church. After more prayer, he proposed to her and she accepted. Turns out, she was interested in marrying him and had a dream over three years earlier about him proposing to her on her birthday. Two years came and went with no birthday proposal, but guess what happened on her birthday this year? On top of that, her parents were also seeking God about the marriage and both of them had dreams about the young couple being married! For those who doubted, the Lord still works in dreams and visions!

Please continue to pray for this church. The battle for the lost hearts and minds of Bulgaria is being waged here, but it is not an easy one. They need our encouragement and support and to know that we are bringing them up before the Lord. God bless you all!

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