Friday, July 31, 2009
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
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
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
“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.’”
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
Sunday, July 19, 2009
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.
Friday, July 17, 2009
"You can do no great things, only small things with great love"
-Mama T (Mother Theresa)
We are staying with a family who moved into their house 3 weeks before we came along. In addition they have been traveling back and forth between homes with their three children, one of which has Down’s Syndrome, attempting to finish the third story of their apartment-like building. The reason they could afford such a big place (all relative, of course) is because the rent was discounted due to the fact that the third story isn’t functional whatsoever. Rali, the wife, is going out of town in several days (ironically, to America) for a Christian conference. Bobby, the husband, helps run their church here, ministering constantly to others and providing almost continually for missionaries. The couple works day and night for Jesus. Then we arrived: nine extra people to care for and feed and assist.
Never once have they complained.
Bobby and Rali are two of the most loving, compassionate, and patient people I have ever met. They are constantly serving us at a time in their life when their schedules are so hectic, I hate to imagine what they sacrifice to meet our needs. They are honest about what they want us to do, which our whole team appreciates because it gives us opportunities to serve them as well. While we arrived, they sent their kids to stay with their grandparents so we could settle in. They come back tomorrow and they will be staying in the currently unfinished upstairs bedrooms. Despite our eagerness to jump into our “mission work” and “the reason we’re here”, our service was needed in their home the past two days. Our jobs?
1. Finish the upstairs with walls and floors, so it’s at least relatively possible for people to inhabit.
2. Clean our their garden/backyard area because it’s a mini jungle.
3. Build a doghouse out of an old chicken shed so that the neighbors don’t poison their dog because it’s acceptable in Bulgaria for that to happen if dogs are too noisy.
So yesterday, we were doing yard work, sawing wood, and laying brick walls for a dog that has too much slobber for it’s own good. Crowded around a table, debriefing, we all expressed essentially the same change of heart. At some point in our work we all made a complaint in our minds to the effect of “I raise $4000 to do this?” and then we realized that for now, for these few days, yes, we did raise $4000 to love and serve people who make a living out of loving and serving. Yes, we nine are here to build doghouses if that’s what needs to be done. We are here to do God’s work and if God’s work is pulling weeds in someone’s backyard, than pull weeds we will.
Everyone of us was humbled yesterday in our innocent missionary hearts. Prepared to move mountains in Bulgaria, we acknowledged that sometimes, to move mountains we must move the stones around it first. God is working though- in us, in the Stefanovs, and in our service. AmberLynn is an amazing cook. She’s going to make such a fantastic mom some day and the extent of her skills in domesticity seems to be endless. Chase is probably the hardest worker here and he hardly gets a moment’s rest because of it. Josh is growing every day and is willing to do any job. Whitney and Allison double as incredible gardeners and encouragers. Brian is his typical serious work self, but at the end of the day, the finished product speaks for itself. Howard is constantly versatile and contributes his strength to whatever project is available, even if it that means hauling wood for the neighbor next door. Amy and I have fun competing to see who can be the manliest woman and to be honest, we make a great team. At the end of the day, we are all happy to be here serving- even if it is in small things with great love.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
AmberLynn: its day ten and I have now successfully managed to get on the computer twice! Perhaps God is just trying to break me of my obsessive face book habits or perhaps I’ve just found better ways to spend my limited amount of free time. In other news, we are about to leave Istanbul, this is truly sad, two days is no time to do justice to such a beautiful, rich city. The people are full of character and a genuine love of other people, foreigners or natives and that is truly rare and beautiful. I am truly sad to leave.
However, I cannot say that I am not excited to return to Shumen and to begin out work, after weeks of being apathetic about this whole ordeal I feel giddy at the prospect of serving! I want to be among the people and to serve them, and my heart is truly full of love for what we are here to do. Flexible pants are, of course, still a vital part of this mission, and I have no idea how God will use me to serve, but whatever He wishes, I am open.
In other news, I have yet to be owned on the narrow European stairs… although I’ve not escaped all embarrassing face plants thus far in the trip. Abby Chestnut, bless her, would like to comment on the status of foreign keyboards and how much she hates them and loves my American made computer. AmyJoy has put her hair up in the most adorable poof AND put on make up to match her outfit. Whitney has blow dried her hair and added a flower bobby pin the same color as her tank top. Allison has put her contacts back in and is faithfully strutting her aqua sunglasses. Howie still has not taken off his Tevas but did manage to buy two pairs of shoes at the bazaar yesterday. Brian has broken out his mad photography skills and matching outfits. Josh has raised his IQ twenty points in the accumulations of “things” he has purchased. And chase has saved the day with his speakers which are finitely less ghetto then Whitney’s. In short, as far away as we are from home, we really aren’t that different… the foreign country has not radically changed our personalities as of yet, but our hearts are another matter, He is working in us.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Pray for us as the Lord causes us to question and causes us to go looking for answers. İ love that he is challenging us here! Please pray for unity and that we could recognize real truth and help the people we meet to do the same. We love you all and miss you. The kids are shopping for gifts for all of you! Thank you for your continued prayer...we love you.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Abby: It began in the last hour of our overseas flight from Washington to Frankfurt. I awoke from an uncomfortable attempt at sleep to Chase telling me that he picked up my gluten-free food for me and had got me coffee. Although the gesture was very sweet, the sight of it prompted me to immediately go to the bathroom. After about 5 minutes of fighting an upset stomach I returned to my seat. Chase was a darling. He went to the back of the plane to try and get me a cup of ice, but when it was unsuccessful he returned letting me know that he would help if he could. With roughly 10 minutes left in the flight, I told him I needed a Bag. With the swiftness of a fox he secured one from Whitney and I took care of business. Absolutely mortified, I started crying but Chase rubbed my back a little bit and encouraged me to not feel bad about it. Once we were in Frankfurt I was eager to wash off and feel better, but we had to go through security twice. As if my rebellious stomach wasn’t enough for my embarrassment, the second time through security I set off the detector. What, you may be wondering, set it off? Nothing other than the wire in my bra. So I was left to being frisked and poked by a German woman, humiliation continuing to overcome me. By this time, I was crying and I still didn’t feel well at all. We took a bus to our flight to Sofia and as soon as we were off the bus, I got sick again, but I boarded the plane feeling like it was all out of my system (or at least hoping). After arriving in Bulgaria and being able to really talk to my whole team, we realized that my case was the manifestation of the stomach battles inside us all. But for me, I knew this sickness was from God. As weird as it sounds, I prayed that God would humble me and help me to rely on my group, and rely on my group I did. Happy to take one for the team, we headed for Customs. Although we were warned that we should declare our business as “tourists” we weren’t even asked. We all got our luggage (praise God!) and we met up with Marty and DiDi, the couple helping us out for a few days and headed for the Pentecostal School where we are staying. Marty led us to two taxis, as well as his car. I hopped in a taxi with Whitney and Allison and rapidly learned that Sofia taxi drivers are NUTS. Though I’ve never been to New York, I imagine it’s much the same. Road signs? Suggestions. Lines on the road? Guidelines. Lanes? Laughable attempts at control. Through all the insanity of the driving, I looked out the window to see a fascinating sight around me. The mountains make you feel like you’re still in Colorado, but the streets are like nowhere I’ve ever seen. People living in dilapidated apartments, stray dogs roaming the roads, piles of wood that were once buildings. It’s like the collapse of Communism brought about the collapse of architecture as well. I could tell that Sofia was a rough place to live. We are going to tour the city tomorrow and we’ve been warned by Ed to be particularly on our guard about stealing. Theft is common in Bulgaria and beggars are good at it. So, if you would like to pray, feel free to begin with our health from our trip and for the safety of our money and possessions.
And I suppose that’s all.
Moral of the story? We are here. We are safe. We are tired. We are happy.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Abby: The past few days have been unbelievable. We started with two initiatives: one of which we failed, but for a good reason (we spent too long on communication and planning) and the other we did well on as a group if you exclude when we let AmberLynn fall on her face. Overall though, after our initiatives I think we realized that as a team, we are in a good place. We are open and honest with each other and in general, we all get along. Having such a solid unit is going to make the next month much easier.
Yesterday, we had two main things on the agenda. In the morning we hiked up to the cross and wrote our fears about the trip on rocks. After praying, we hurled them from the top of the cliff and watched as they shattered below. Powerful stuff, man. Powerful stuff. Then Ed Cox from the Navigators came and orientated us on Bulgaria. It was sort of information overload, but it was GREAT to finally have a picture of the culture in mind. I know especially for me, hearing about the country has made the fact that we are sitting in an airport getting ready to start this journey that much more real and exhilirating.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I'm learning that everyone came with his or her own baggage, his or her own fears, his or her own weaknesses. And there is truly beauty in that. We sat in a circle trying to get a glimpse of the heart of each team member, trying to relay some of our own baggage, fears, and weaknesses. One thing is certain: Eagle Lake International Crew '09 loves to talk about feelings.
Yesterday afternoon we did team initiatives that bonded us from a group of individuals to a team. Its amazing to watch Jesus move us from an individual to a team over such a short period of time. And its amazing to see Jesus melt away the "me" and turn our pronoun usage into "we".
We leave tomorrow to travel for 24 hours straight. Please be praying for our team's safety. But also be praying for the spiritual growth of all of us. One specific goal we have is to find God everyday in the mundane. We want to see who God is to Bulgarians. And maybe a few practical things, Allison is terrified of shots and we are praying that she won't step on a rusty nail. And please pray that I won't have to find out what a Bulgarian root canal feels like...
Joshua 1:9, 2 Corinth. 12:9
Friday, July 3, 2009
These past few days have been a flurry of small tasks that so easily clog my ability to see the big picture. I leave for Eagle Lake tomorrow morning and there seem to be an annoying amount of details that keep me from the Lord. My prayer today is that God file down my excess thoughts. Yes, I need to make sure I packed my mascara, but Lord, remind me why I need to bring it in the first place.
This trip sets itself apart in the glaringly minute fact that our team has no idea of details. All we know as of now is that we need to get to camp. And eventually we get on a plane. I feel like that one Moses guy...he's got one step to take to get into the Promise Land. One step is all it takes and the destiny of the world will forever be changed. But that first step is a doozy. But some days, especially these days, I don't want any part of that steppin'. Its scary.
Lord, allow our team to let go of our expectations no matter how small. Give us one mind, your mind. Give us courage to go, and to go holding hands with one another. We'll see you on Sunday.
......and we will know what we need to know when we need to know it.