Friday, July 31, 2009

I found Jesus (but he found me first)


And it's about time i found Jesus, since today is our last day in the pleasant little town of Shumen. There is a monument here that was built to commemorate this city's 1300th anniversary. (that's not a typo - 1300 years! and that was a few years back, mind you) There are 1300 stairs leading up to this monument, and once you get up there, you feel a bit like Indiana Jones stumbling upon some ancient ruins, as if some ghost of a knight is going to pop out and tell you that you've chosen wisely.

This monument is one of my favorite places in all of Shumen, and today i made my last sweaty run up the steps (with my pal Amy Joy) to enjoy the large sculptures and mosaics one last time. But today i saw something i hadn't noticed before, and i hate myself for not having a camera with me. There is, in between some mosaics walls that are about 6 stories tall, a narrow corridor (Matthew 7:13-14) that goes back a ways (still very Dr. Jones-ish) and at the end of it - past some stairs and some dirt - is a small mosaic of Jesus. It's just his chest and his face and it's only about waist high, but it took my breath away when i stumbled upon it today. To think He was just hiding back there, all alone, sitting in the dirt ... waiting for me to find Him. And isn't this our Jesus, too? He is always there, but don't we have to seek him to really find Him? (jeremiah 29:13) He is longing to make us clean, but isn't he in the filthier places, getting his hands dirty with the sinful people of this world and ushering them into his kingdom? He looked so peaceful, sitting there waiting for me, and it brought the same feeling over me.

But I find something different in our American churches. Mine is so polished, so clean, so full of pretty people. Everyone is doing "good" and we are all looking fine in our sunday best. I see something different in the Bulgarian church we have visited here. People often don't match, they often don't smell freshly showered, and they sometimes sing off key. There's this one lady who wears an Adidas wristband every time she's there - whether she's in jeans or dresses - and i never figured out why. But they come to God so humbly broken, so aware of their need for him, and so full of praise. I don't even have to speak their language to see this. I like how Jon Foreman says he is part of "the church of dropouts, the losers, the sinners, and the fools." Isn't this us? When did we think we had to look so good and hide so well? (i type as i point one finger back at myself)

So, here's to hoping that i can walk a narrow path to sit in the dirt with Jesus more, getting my hands filthy with the reality of broken humanity. Thanks for the good times, Shumen. I will miss you.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

свят, свят, свят


If this blog post seems all over the place, I apologize. I’ve seen God working in so many huge ways the past few days that eloquence and organization in my writing are being shafted for the sake of giving an update about our team and what we’ve been learning.

Two days ago we went to an orphanage. Hands down, it was one of the best experiences of my life. People always say the same thing when they meet people less fortunate, “They have so little, but they are so happy!” It’s cliché, but it’s a powerful lesson that I definitely learned for the first time on Tuesday. We pulled up in three cars and in literally a matter of seconds after getting out we had kids begging us to pick them up and play with them. You don’t need to know Bulgarian to understand laughter and smiles. I took out my camera to take pictures and immediately it disappeared into the eager hands of the little ones; I think I have at least 100 pictures that they all took. They were fascinated by the simplest things: a digital watch, a soccer ball, a camera, Nalgene water bottles. They wanted us to share everything.

I thought the orphanage would be heart-wrenching and difficult, but at the end of the day I felt like the Grinch whose heart had grown two sizes. Amy, AmberLynn, and I went back again today and I was so overwhelmed with appreciation for these kids. They know how to laugh and love and watch out for each other. They know how to not be discouraged. They know how to reach out to people and see them as beautiful.

A theme that has come up in our Bible Study and Quiet Times in the past few days has been about God using the weak and the “least of these” to shame the strong. I have been shamed, but in the most loving and joyful way possible. I really don’t believe that Jesus is telling us to pity the orphans or the widows or the prisoners, he’s telling us to learn from them. I have never seen love like I saw in those orphans and I am so encouraged.

I’ll tell you what, as a team, we are tired. We are weary and we are being challenged daily. This mission trip has been far from what most of us expected, but we are continuing to press on. As cheesy as it is, during debriefs at night a song I sang in first grade for our May Day performance keeps popping into my head. “Each of us is a flower, growing in life’s garden. Each of us is a flower, we need the sun and rain.” I look around the room at my teammates and my leaders and I feel like I’m in a garden. Every one of us is growing and though we may have expected a different kind of fertilizer at first, God is pouring out his rain and sunshine. This week especially, we’ve tried to be as intentional as possible about hanging out with all the Bulgarians. We’ve led worship at church, we’ve been to services and prayer meetings, and we meet our friends for coffee (or if you’re me, for ice cream) everyday. But if there’s anything that I’m taking away from this entire experience it is that God has no language barriers and no culture shocks. God is love; he speaks in love; he moves and lives in love. And that is why I can look at the faces of the orphans and see him. It’s why I can listen to our incredible translators and hear him. And it’s why I can live with my teammates and feel him.

Our journey is winding down. God is not.

Friday, July 24, 2009

2 Lira Per Person

If anything can be said for this trip, its that everything and nothing is to be expected. Meaning simply that God is working, but not in the way we expected. I spend most of my time with a 78 year-old retired communist police man and two beautiful Bulgarian women talking about boys where my expectation was to be moving heavy rocks and scary things that give you tetnis.

There came a point a few days ago when I realized that spending time with people was what we raised $4000 to do. Investing in a life is far more valuable then moving one rock from this pile to that. But still, in my mind the rock moving has a bigger price tag. Maybe its my American heritage that tells me that the work is more important than the heart investment or maybe its Satan. Either way I feel a tension when I am away from the work having lunch with Petina (one of my favorite women I met here) or getting icecream with some of the girls in the youth group. I feel guilt because somewhere in the back of my mind I believe other people are telling me this work isn't valuable.

Meeting with another requires more than the grunts and wiping of sweat. It requires skill and love. It requires a genuine heart and most of all for God to show up. But when he shows up, there is nothing better or more satisfying.

And as I write, Teddy (the cutest Bulgarian boy alive, he's 6) came to ask me to play Uno. Praise the Lord for wise investments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In the Field of Dreams and Rusty Nails


“The work is not easy, but if you didn’t want to work hard, then you would have stayed in America!”

You know that guy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The father, who sprays Windex on everything because he thinks it has healing powers? Yeah well, we met the Bulgarian version today, only his medicinal fixation is booze. His name is Stephan, he is 80-year-old atheist, and he is the man who has owned and lived on the property we are working at for over 45 years. He is a feisty old guy who likes to pour alcohol on any wounds caused by rusty nails and walk around with his shirt off. Despite his quirks, he knows better than anyone the nature (Get it? NATURE?) of the property that we are clearing. So today, with the help of two translators, Kolio (an 18-year-old from the church who’s been hanging out with us) and Sammy (Bobby’s 10-year-old son), we started our work. Finally.

A couple of nights ago, Bobby sat down with us for almost 3 hours to share his testimony. I’ve never heard anything like it. It wasn’t his testimony; it was the testimony of how alive Christ has been in Shumen for the past 60 years. He took us through the generations before him and told us of how his family created the church here during a time when the Communist regime threatened every one of its leaders. His family combated the spiritual warfare being raged against God’s people and Jesus has prevailed. Bobby is living proof of this triumph, and his Vision, the Vision he shared with us, is the manifestation of God’s providence. 32,000 square meters next to a reservoir and on the side of a mountain. Once the thousands of trees, heaps of rusty iron, countless tires, weeds, shards of glass, and all the other unidentifiable junk that is infested in that land are removed, several buildings will be built: a home for Bobby, Rali, and their kids, an orphanage for disabled children (who are often abandoned at birth), a home for the elderly, and a retreat center will all coexist on the vast property. What will be the name of this place you ask? Nothing other than ‘The Promised Land.’

But boy oh boy do you have to have a huge paradigm shift to see the promise in this land. Whitney put it so well today when she breathlessly said, “Bobby is such a visionary.” The huge expense of their property is hardly visible underneath the wild, overgrown brush. If you want to try and explore it, you should be sure you have your tetanus shot because you are essentially guaranteed to be impaled by the shards of metal ravaged by rust emerging out of every part of the ground, trees, and dilapidated buildings. We worked hard today and the progress was evident, but in the scheme of things, it all just seems so overwhelming.

We are not discouraged though. In fact, we are strengthened and challenged by the massive task before us. We know we can’t do it on our own strength, but that’s why we have Jesus to renew us physically and spiritually. This property is going to be someone’s dream come true. It’s going to be someone’s home. It’s going to be someone’s only chance at love. What God is doing here is so important and we are all absolutely thrilled at the idea of being his hands and feet.

That scrappy old man is right. We are here to work hard. And work hard we will.

“So you also, when you have done all that you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
-Luke 17:10

various & sundry.

There are lots of things going on the minds and hearts of each one of us here in the small town of Shumen. I do not intend to talk about these things very much (ironic), but rather, I'd like to try and give some glimpses into what our "normal" life is like here... So, in no particular order, here we go:

We consume lots of Nutella. and homemade granola. I look forward to this every morning.

We wear the same clothes about 2-3 days in a row. (even more if your name is Chase)

We take 5 minute showers, and the shower is right next to the sink. And when i say "right next to" i mean RIGHT ABOVE. As in, there's a shower head over the sink and you just stand in the bathroom and bathe. (ie- no shower curtain, no frosted glass closing doors - just you and the toilet and the sink and the shower head)

We live next to a man who looks like Mr. Clean and owns a little food shop with lime green doors. He is always friendly, give me high fives, and asks me to get him a visa so he can move to L.A.

We don't drink the tap water. I drink lots of 3-in-1 powder, which is one of the most brilliant inventions of all time. Coffee, sugar, and creamer all in one easy-to-open package that you dump in hot water.

I'm really glad i brought my slippers. I use them every day.

There is a cat in our house whose name is Sarai. She can jump up, grab a door handle, pull it down, and let herself out of rooms. I am getting a 6-pack from the sheer entertainment of this.

Our feet really smell. But i secretly like really disgusting smells, so it's cool :)

There are grapes growing everywhere in the backyard of our flat. They look delicious but will sadly not be ripe until we're gone.

I love having translators. I think i wanna hire one to be with me at all times even when i'm back home, just to be sure i'm hearing everyone correctly.

I love my team!

Monday, July 20, 2009

In America We Have Stump Removal Services

AmberLynn: The real work has begun in our hearts and through our hands. The end of the day brings complete and utter exhaustion and the mornings a fresh start accompanied by sore muscles. Day one found everyone hauling brush and building a doghouse and holding up plywood to walls… in short the power team came out. Day two was a day of mastering the weeds of nature, Amy as Tiger Lilly ripped up roots like a champion. Abby Chestnut has kept up with boys not only in the physical aspect but also in the “how dirty can you become in one day”. She successfully poured a jar of century old olive oil down her whole entire body. Allison has made quite the connection with the local people the relationships are growing quickly and deeply in the hearts of others as well as for Allison. Whitney is the eager beaver who loves to clean and organize, while collecting little treasures along the way. Howard has, surprisingly really developed a heart for Bobby and Rali’s kids: Teddy, Sammy, and Annie and has spent the day trekking back and forth between the playground with them. Chase is our worker, he volunteers for anything and everything, if Chase can find a way to make someone’s day, and he’s all about it. Fatigue has started to grip at all of us but Brian Hicks has not only been dealing being tired but with fighting off illness… no one would have guessed it by the way he willingly pushes through the tasks of hauling bricks and cleaning oil spills. And of course Josh, he’s really started to come into his own personality wise, he speaks his mind all the time and he’s heart now as well, he is a joy to work with and a joy to hang out with. Our host Bobby is, as always, a blessing trying to accommodate us in every way he can. There is debris in our way from seeing God’s work and stumps in our hearts and minds which make achieving goals harder but we are here to find the roots, what are they connected to? What can we do remove them? Do some of them need to stay intact? The land is raw and in a way, so is we, but we are here to do Gods work… In America we may have stump removal services, but in Bulgaria we are the stump removal services.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our first weekend in Shumen

We have got down to work during the past few days. Working at Bobby and Rali’s house was not quite what I had expected, but we are getting so much done! It is interesting, on crew I had often thought, “ I wish we actually were able to help spread Christianity more instead of just cleaning, but then someone helped me realize that by cleaning, we were freeing up the counselors to interact with the kids and talk to them. Therefore, indirectly, we were. I realized last night that the same thing is happening here. By helping get this house together we are saving Bobby and Rali an incredible amount of time which they can then use to work more at the church. That really changed my perspective of the past few days’ work.
Amy, Abby and I worked on Thursday to get the doghouse built, which was difficult seeing as it was crumbling down. But with some concrete we mixed, wood and the basic building tools, we were able to do it. On the third level Brian and Bobby got a ton of work done putting up plywood. It was very hot up there but they worked all day and did so much. What beasts!
On Friday I worked with Amy, Allison, Whitney, Abby, and Amber in the backyard to clear out a bunch of weeds, trash, random junk, and tree stumps. Those were hard but through a combined effort, we dominated them. Josh and Howard hauled a whole lot of wood together, and Brian again was up in the attic. In the afternoon Abby, Amy, and I went up to help up there too and again it was hot- we could not turn on the AC because of all the dust in the air. It is done now and it looks great.
On Saturday we went to a church youth group event where we met a bunch of people from Bobby’s church. That was a great time of interaction, and we got to know several people really well. Rali left for America mid afternoon, but it should be a great trip, so we are excited for her. Then that evening we did some work at the house again, and then split up and went out for some guy bonding time and some girl bonding time. We got delicious pizza and talked. It was good to wind down a bit.
Today (Sunday) we attended Bobby’s church! The service was in Bulgarian, but a few people who were sitting with us translated. The worship portion lasted a good 45 minutes to an hour, and although I couldn’t understand the words and only could pick out a few, I really heard to emotion in the singing. Whenever a leader prayed, the whole room filled with murmuring of agreement. At first I was thinking, “ why are they so noisy?” but then I figured out it was they getting into the prayer as some will say “Yes Lord” during a prayer in English. I loved that. They brought us up on stage and we told why we were there and each of us gave a brief testimony about ourselves. Afterward we stayed and talked with church members and leaders, and some of us had a jam session on the stage with them. They really wanted to see what we could play. It was fun.
Tomorrow we are hoping to go work at the property, but that is presuming the van gets repaired. I fear that may not be done by tomorrow, but we shall see.
I think prayer for our team’s spiritual strength and physical endurance would be great. Satan is alive and well, and among us all. That has become clear on this trip. He is out to get us. Thankfully we have Jesus, but if we are not wary Satan can sneak in and wear us down without out us seeing it at first. We do daily quite times and discussions, which are good to keep us focused on our goal and united.
A cool side note, Bobby is a great father. Seeing him interact with his children is fun and inspiring. What a cool guy.