In June 2011, I had the opportunity to go to Bulgaria along with a group of eight others from the church. For a number of years our church has had a link with The Bethlehem Baptist Church in Lom and groups have visited them every year but this was my first time there. We were to stay in a house belonging to the Pastor in Mezdreya, which was about an hour away from Lom. Sam and Sally Kawamura, two of our Church members, had been there for around two months doing mission work on behalf of the Lom Church and we were hoping to join them in their work with young people. Jim and Jennifer had also been there for a week, so lots of preparations had been made for our arrival. On Tuesday 21st, Adam, Matt and I arrived in Sofia after an uneventful flight via Frankfurt and were very pleased to be met by Sam and Sally. However we still had a long journey by road ahead of us and did not arrive at the house until three o'clock in the morning.
Although we may have benefitted from a long lie-in the next morning, we managed to be up bright and early to help at the children's club that Sam and Sally had been given permission to start in the Village Hall. There had been no facility like this before and Sally had started the club to give the children somewhere safe to meet and play and to provide a service to the community. In Bulgaria there is much suspicion of and prejudice against the Roma people, and the children could be discouraged from mixing. Sally's hope was that the club would enable the two ethnic groups to come together. Despite initial fears that this might backfire, it turned out that the villagers were delighted to have us investing in their children. It was good to meet the children at this stage, because we were to work with them for the much of the rest of the week.
At the club we played games with the children: English-language-learning games; singing games; parachute games; and ball games. There were also arts and crafts activities to do. The club ran for as long as the children stayed, which was always later than planned. Children would come and do our organised activities, go out to do their own thing, and then come back later. This seemed to reflect the more relaxed attitude of the people, and we had to adapt accordingly.
It goes without saying that there were language difficulties, although we had done some elementary Bulgarian over the previous few months. It was great to see that Sam and Sally had picked up some of the language during their stay, and Jennifer was able to help us out of any problems.
The rest of Wednesday afternoon was spent shopping in the nearby town of Berkovitsa, sightseeing and planning for the rest of the week.
On Thursday morning we held a Scotland Party for the children, which was like a cèilidh, in the traditional Gaelic sense of the word. We decorated the village hall with our flag, tartan and Scottish postcards on the walls! CD's belted out bagpipe music as well as traditional folk songs - we taught them to sing Loch Lomond in Scots. We had Scottish-themed games such as 'Pin the tail on the Highland Cow,' 'Hunt the Haggis' and the children coloured in castles and made Scottish flags. We all had such a great time that we decided to run the club the next day as well (up until then it had just been once-a-week).
On Saturday we were to help at the youth club at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Lom, so we spent most of the day there, stopping off at Montana for a while on the way. We prepared arts and crafts and musical activities for the young people, and had to be mindful that we would be serving young children as well as teenagers. During the evening we sang songs and Sam gave guitar lessons, and Adam drum lessons to those that were interested. We ordered pizza from a nearby restaurant for tea. The tables were covered with paper tablecloths, which everyone enjoyed drawing on with the crayons, pens and paints provided.
On Sunday we spent the whole day with the Lom church. It was an early start. Bristo played a very active part in the service. Brian and Matt delivered greetings from Bristo, Sam led the music, our group gave the children's address, and Jim gave the sermon. I was asked to give a testimony, which I did in English with a translator, though I used my limited Bulgarian to introduce myself. While still standing at the front, I was surprised to be handed a sheet of music in Bulgarian by Sam, and asked to sing it! Fortunately I knew the music - it was 'Light of the World,' which we do often at Bristo, and I was delighted to be able to sing it in Bulgarian!
Before the trip we had been asked by Doctor Filipova, a member of the church, to bring with us some generic over-the-counter medicines, because they are very expensive over there. In fact we collected quite a lot, and were able to hand it over after the service.
After a huge lunch, Matt and I helped with an English class that Sally had been running, and in the evening we all went to a wonderful Barbecue by the River Danube laid on by the church.
Monday was the last day there for Adam, Matt and I. We spent a restful day in and around the village, and met with the children once more in the evening and said our goodbyes. All week we had brilliant weather, a welcome break from the Scottish summer!, and the food was great as well.
Every day we gathered for devotions. These were times when we praised God in song, prayer, and through reading the Bible together. We did this in the top room of the house with the windows open wide, as it was so hot. We learned later that the villagers, not surprisingly, could hear us singing, but said they felt blessed by it.
It was a full week, but it was invigorating, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were met with friendship and acceptance, and felt that our presence was valued. I was really grateful for the opportunity to go on this mission. Slava na Boga!