Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Away from the busyness of my "real life" i have found my real self."

Let's see:
Driving a stick shift for the first time across a foreign country? Check.
Preaching week after week to a family church that knows no english? Check.
Spending hours each day on hot public transportation fighting the urge to throw up? Check.
Getting caught walking home in a hailstorm mid summer? Check.
Getting fleas from the local street dogs? Check.

I have a long list of exciting and interesting experiences that are frequent occurences this summer. They have kept me on my toes to say the least, and i hate to say it, but mom they even made me regret not bringing the anti-itch cream that your tried to force me to take. :)

SO much has happened that it's impossible to stay fully updated, but here is a short paragraph of some of my own personal endevours. I have made a few friends with local guys my age at the outdoor basketball courts who speak a little english, and we play a couple times a week when it doesnt rain. It's been really fun, and during those times I feel like I am back in the states just hooping with old friends. I have been blessed to preach on a weekly basis at the home church zhana has begin in the village of Manaselska Reka. The people there are so wonderful, and the friday's that we spend there weekly are some of my favorite days of the summer. Let me tell ya - Mama Petya can throw down in the grill, and we had some killer porkchops and fried zuchinni one afternoon. YUM.

Another highlight - Preston and I have been teaching history/logic/ethics at the biggest high school in bulgaria. They brought us in because they wanted us to practice speaking english with the kids, and it has become more of conversation time than anything. They love to compare lifestyles of Bulgaria and the States, and even though we are different its comforting for both sides when we find that we have so much in common. Also, our team goes Bulgarian folk dancing twice a week! There is a small class in the neighboring village from us, and we dance for about an hour and a half straight. Talk about cardio! We get better everytime, and it's a fun way to dive headfirst into the culture.

We have recently passed the one month marker for our summer away from home. Time is both moving slowly and flying is a strange feeling. Home has taken on a new meaning for me while I have been away, and I think i speak for all of us. Yes, I miss my family, my bed, cold drinks, and driving my own personal car. I mean, what seems like my entire identity is waiting for me in the Nashville area. Nashville - a city that very few who I have encountered here even knows exists. Our own personal lives are so insignificant in light of the entire world, and I believe this is something we needed to be reminded of often. The world does not revolve around our schedules, desires, dinner plans, or activities, and while we may be enjoying a nice dinner and a trip the movie theater there are people all over the world who are fighting hunger, hatred, and hopelessness.

I feel called to live out the Kingdom in places of the world that have little to no hope, and whose lives are so full of chaos and darkness that they would sacrifice everything to experience peace. I knew that this summer would most likely be a "make it or break it" trip for me to decipher my calling; sort of like tossing my calling into  a stormy sea and seeing whether or not it will sink or swim. I came to the rural countryside of Bulgaria - a place where violence, hatred, injustice, and hopelessness runs wild. I have been thrown into situations far outside my comfort zone, and have experienced my share of highs and lows. I was hoping on my departure from the states that I would fall in love with Bulgaria and living overseas while I was here - loving the food and accomodations, the atmosphere, the lifestyle, etc. While some of these are true, I must be honest and say that I have not felt completely at home while I am here. No story book affirmation to my calling I guess. However, never have I felt such a strong conviction on my life- a calling to spend a lifetime in fellowship with Christ in a place of the world that needs the most hope. It has become even more obvious to me that this is not in America, and I believe that I would be going against the will of God for my life if I stayed in my current home. I would not trade anything for the conversations, learning, and friendship that i have already experienced this first month here. Away from the busyness of my "real life", I have found my real self. God has sanded my rough edges, and he has/still is purifying my heart and mind, and bending me more and more towards the man he wants me to become. I have found myself dependent on him and his word in a fresh and vital way, a life-giving way, something that I have yet to experience even as a religion major in a Christian university. As I examine my life- my past and future- God's fingerprints are evident on both sides of the present. The peace that I have in my heart surpasses all understanding, and I know that my God will be faithful to me as long as I surrender myself to his will and take up my cross and follow him; wherever that may be. All I have to do is to step out of the boat.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, June 10, 2011

не разбирам

            We are having the time of our lives with the children here. The language barrier always adds a little bit of spice to our time, too. Imagine trying to teach the rules of a game only using the words “yes”, “no”, “here”, “good”, and “ball” all while moving around like an idiot, thinking that hand gestures will fix everything. не разбирам (Ne Razbiram), “I do not understand”, has become a very common phrase for us as we try to communicate. We have learned that speaking slower and louder does not help someone understand us, but some of the kids are still struggling with that one.
The kids have caught on and use the phrase just as much as we do now; it is usually followed by more Bulgarian, to which we give the same response.
            Three weeks into our work here, our relationships with the kids should be getting deeper.  We are learning the stories of their lives and the hardships they face, but as far as getting to know each other, we are pretty much stuck. We have found ways to get around the language barrier, such as using Google Translate to ask questions like “What is your favorite color?” and “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” but because we have been raised in a very comfortable, American lifestyle, there are things we will just never understand.
            The Gypsy community is the single most oppressed people group in the world. No one wants them and to quote some of Daniel and Preston’s students: “They are ruining our country”. These people could be such a strong force if they would just band together in support of one another, but we continue to hear stories and even see instances where these people turn on each other in an effort to better themselves.
            Human life is valued very differently here, as we are seeing that the sole reason premarital sex is looked down upon is the high price placed on a young girl’s virginity. Daughters are sold for the price of a cow to any man willing to pay the price, and these “men” can be as young as 10 years old. It is very normal for a girl to drop out of school to be sold and the girls pride themselves on their ability to bring their family money. It is mind-blowing.
            The other two girls and I have spent many hours and late nights trying to understand the social norms here and why they are so different. I have found that these differences are my main struggle in being here this summer. It is hard to admit that I will never understand.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bulgarian and Culinary Adventures

Sorry that we haven't blogged in a while! We have had a busy week, moving in and becoming acquainted with our new towns.
We drove to Pravets last Friday and met our leader, Zhana, then drove on to Vidrare, where we attended a program put on by the school children. It was pretty interesting, even though we couldn't understand most of what was going on. Afterwards, Zhana showed us around Pravets, which is about twenty minutes from Vidrare, and let us get settled into our apartments. Davina and I have a huge apartment, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and bathroom. The guys' apartment is about ten minutes walk down the street, on the top floor, so it has a great view. Everything is in walking distance, which is different, but we've enjoyed it. The entire country has been on a holiday since last Friday, celebrating the Bulgarian culture, so we haven't begun our routine that Zhana has prepared for us. We visited a small Roma town called Manaselska Reka on Sunday. It's high in the mountains, which meant an interesting bus ride for us. Zhana has church services with a small group of people every Sunday. Usually, after church, she plays with the children so their mothers can visit with each other. With us here, Zhana is able to sit with the women and build better relationships with them while we entertain the kids. So we played tag and Frisbee with the kids and taught them a few new games. We have been working on our Bulgarian vocabulary, and being around the kids has helped us learn even more. The kids and families we have come in contact with have be so welcoming and open to us!
Another adventure we have experienced is cooking for ourselves. I was so excited about doing this; we have vegetable markets and a small grocery store down the street from us. I thought it wouldn't take us long to figure out how to make dinner for ourselves, but it has been an interesting experience. Saturday, we had the basic chicken and mixed vegetables. It was tasty, but not very exciting. Sunday, we were able to eat some wonderful soup and bread in Manaselska Reka. Monday, we ate huge bake potatoes the we bought from the market. They were definitely the biggest potatoes I have ever seen. They turned out pretty well. Probably our best night. Then we had spaghetti on Tuesday. It was alright, except that we didn't know the guys don't like Italian food that much, so that wasn't a favorite for us. Wednesday was probably the worst, though. We decided to have rice, corn, and baked chicken. We cooked the rice and corn while the oven heated up, then had to wait for at least thirty minutes for the chicken to cook. So we had some very strange chicken and cold rice and corn. Tonight was better in the fact that we found frozen chicken patties and made french fries; the chicken tasted like fish and the fries were so greasy that they were sliding out of our fingers. So, best night so far: baked potato, worst: take your pick.
We have had a wonderful time here so far. God has definitely blessed us with a beautiful location and amazing leader. We know He will continue to take care of us, even if we aren't so good at taking care of ourselves yet. We have fallen in love many times over with the land and the people. We have only been here a week, and it feels like we are completely enmeshed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Here We Go

The time has come to embark on this great journey, half way around the world to a place whose stories I’ve heard do not do it justice. Only having truly been out of the country once (about a month ago) to Canada, which is not exactly another country, I am very nervous yet excited to see the drastic change in culture we’ll see stepping foot in Bulgaria. Our flight leaves at 1:00 p.m. Sunday the 15th. We will be traveling from Nashville, to Washington D.C., to Frankfurt, Germany, to Sofia, Bulgaria. All 19 of us will be spending a few days in Sofia, Bulgaria’s Capital, for some training before we head out to our various destinations across eastern Europe. Bethany, Davina, Daniel, and I will be in the small town of Vidrare. Here we will be working in an orphanage for disabled children who have been abandoned by their parents during the mornings of the first few days every week. Then we will head over to a local school to have some fun the some of the kids. One day every week we will be traveling to another near by town to take some wise, old, Bulgarian elders on walks outside their retirement home. Hopefully we’ll be able to pick up on the language and catch some tasty traditional Bulgarian grandma recipes. Another day we will likely be teaching English to high school kids. I look forward to just sitting and trying to teach English, while being taught and attempting to learn Bulgarian at the same time. I am so excited, and fearful of what I am stepping into. I cannot wait to see how God is going display his love during these three months. The relationships we will build doing all of these things is truly what this trip is about. Watching a movie at my house tonight, with a group of my closest friends, I realized how much I am going to miss everybody. But even though these friends will be missed, I look most forward to meeting new lifelong friends to live with, love with, and grow with.

Thank you so much for helping us get here. Thank you for your prayers, and please continue to pray for us. I pray that God uses me however he sees fit.

Grace and Peace

Monday, May 2, 2011

T-minus 13 days and counting...

Welcome friends and family to the blog of the Vidrare Immerse team. We are extremely blessed to be embarking on this journey in a few weeks, and we want to thank you in advance for your support, whether that has been financial, emotional, or spiritual. We now more than ever ask for you to pray with us for the summer ahead.

It has been a leap of faith from the beginning; three months overseas in a city we know very little about with a team of four including people we had yet to meet. But now that the dust has settled - our team has been formed and we know the city in which we will spend the summer - the anxiety has not diminished. Communication across the world does not come easy, and we are still scrambling to gather all of the necessary information (packing suggestions, trip itinerary, money, etc).  

Everything is a swirl of thoughts and emotions: excitement, anxiety, worry, contemplation, adventure, relfection, preparation, and hope for what is to come. We do not head into Vidrare expecting to bring the Gospel with us and to accomplish a long list of goals, but to meet the people right where they are in the journey of life and join along with them while living within the reign of God. The Kingdom is not confined solely to our home churches, and we expect to enter into a fresh, dynamic, authentic chapter of God's story this summer in Bulgaria.

For me personally, I have been out of the country several times but never for such an extended period of time, and I cannot wait to settle in to Vidrare knowing that I will not be packing my bags in a week or two, but that I have all summer to make friends and share life with them. I know the stories and faces of those I meet will be on my heart for a lifetime, and I hope and pray that I faithfully exemplify Christ's love in all things. If you are wondering how you can pray for me this summer, there ya go.

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi,