dscn0246About a year ago I received a phone call from a man who I barely knew. He was telling me something about his friend from Moscow, his pastor who died a few months before, about mission in Bulgaria and other things, which couldn’t fit into my head. After some time of talking I got the idea: there was a guy in Moscow who was going to move to Bulgaria to continue the mission, which was started by his pastor, who actually died. Okay, I got it… but what can I do here? Well, let’s pray and see what the Lord is saying. We prayed with Masha and have decided to be open to all ways the Lord is going to speak to us.

In a couple of months I went to Moscow for another semester. When I was there, I met with Anton (that is the name of the guy) and his family. We spent two days talking and praying about the question. The problem was obvious – his pastor was the only vision-bearer of that project, and Anton was trying hard to catch up. I told him about our ministry for men, and he liked it. He came up with the idea of taking this ministry to Bulgaria – probably making men’s camps like ours in Norway and Russia.  We stayed in touch after I left, and we were discussing these ideas, which were quickly becoming plans.

Last summer Anton finally moved to Bulgaria with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. We decided to have the men’s camp in late October, which was good for me and for them. I started preparing. I didn’t want to go alone, so I invited my two friends, Zhenya and Seva, who were helping me to do the camp in Russia last summer. I’m really hoping they will soon become a team, and this trip was supposed to become a step to it. They both were preparing for the trip, but Seva couldn’t go because of health problems.

First, we were planning to drive there, since we wanted to take our camping/hiking gear there with us. And it would have been an adventure itself. But soon before the camp we decided to fly. One of the reasons – Seva couldn’t go, so it was becoming too expensive just for two of us, and another reason – Ukraine. We couldn’t cross Ukrainian border, and driving around was too long and too expensive. So we chose to fly.

dscn0274I need to say, going to Bulgaria for me was going into the unknown. I didn’t know what kind of country it was, what kind of people lived there, what problems churches were facing, what was the situation with the men there – in churches, in families, in society in general. I didn’t know what to prepare for. The only thing I was happy about – I was going there in late fall. It meant it wouldn’t be hot there! From the whole country I knew only Anton, who moved there three months before. So, we prayed and fasted with my wife and with Zhenya, and finally on the 24th of October we started.

The flight took the whole night and morning, so we arrived in Bucharest tired and sleepy. Anton met us there with his friend. Traffic both in Romania, where we arrived, and in Bulgaria, where we got in about an hour after that, was terrible. No one respected the traffic rules and other drivers. Wild countries! Both countries reminded me of Russia in mid 90s. Chaotic, dirty, poor, no laws, no order.  Later during the trip that feeling grew even stronger.

In the evening we met with Vladimir, the pastor of United Methodist Church in Ruse, Anton’s friend and pastor. He was very much interested in ministry for men, because he saw major problems with men in his denomination and in the country in general. He shared a lot about the situation with men in the country, so it was becoming clear – this work is greatly needed here.

We had a day to catch up, so we spent it meeting with other guys, who were going to attend the meeting, shopping for food, packing and preparing the final schedule.

A little bit difficult for me was that Anton expected me to make decisions at tell him what to do. But in fact, I was like a blind kitten, having absolutely no idea where we were going and how it was going to look like. Yes, I got the message, and I was ready to share it, but I was not able to organize the trip itself.

As the result, everything was going spontaneously to certain degree. The plan was to drive to the mountains, hike 15 kilometers to the camp, to stay three nights in the tents in the camp, having short hikes in the mornings and lessons in the afternoons and evenings. But it turned out to be very different.

dscn0298After three hour drive, we arrived in something one could call a mountain hotel, Bulgarian (read Soviet) style. Having distributed quickly food and tent parts over the packs, we soon started to the mountain Ispolin, the summit of which was in just an hour walk from us. We were right in the cloud, and it was becoming pretty windy. In an hour or so, we found a spot for our camp.  Nice place, interesting view. But windy. Very windy. After we pitched our super heavy camping tent, we made fire (there was enough wood just a little down the slope) and fried ‘kyuftetki’  – something like meatballs. The temperature when we arrived was about 40 – 41, but by the time our food was ready it dropped down to 10. With strong wind. Everybody was frozen. As Anton said, I was able to find Norway even in Bulgaria.

So, we had our meal in the tent, which had many holes and wind was blowing right through it. After the meal we had our first class – and I think it was the most extreme class I ever taught. The wind was blowing, the tent was shaking, everybody was shivering of cold, but it was good! I hope everybody remembers that message.

After the class we went to bed. But, no one was ready for that kind of night. I took my summer sleeping bag, Zhenya did too. The Bulgarians hardly had something sleeping-bag-like. To tell the truth – I was freezing that night. I don’t know how others survived. But they did, and were pretty happy in the morning. It was clear we wouldn’t be able to stay the whole day in this wind and stay another night in the tent. So we decided to hike back to the ‘hotel’ and continue there. That was the very right decision. We hardly could get warm when we arrived. So, next two days we spent in this place, having classes, sharing good food (Bulgarians love to eat good!), having great fellowship. Everybody could share, many deepest problems were open then, we prayed for each other and the guys, who knew each other before, were learning absolutely new things about each other. It was so good to see God in action in these men.

There were two pastors, two unsaved men, a father and his 21 year old son, a man whose wife left him, a 44 year old man who just got married… You can imagine – it was very interesting. And I could see all those men were there for a reason. No random attendees.

After we arrived back in Ruse, we spent enough time talking with Vladimir. He was very encouraged with the message – that was what he was looking for! He liked the place where we had the meeting and the whole format of it.

We discussed the ideas and plans for the future with Vladimir and Anton. They want me to come again as soon as possible – in winter, in spring. But we have decided to have next meeting next November. A kind of long, but I can’t travel there more often. We also scheduled a women’s meeting for April – Masha will go there to lead it, maybe with some of her friends from here.

Now they are starting men’s groups in Ruse and nearby towns, they are planning to meet once a month. I will send materials for these groups.

So, it was not easy for me, but I loved it. Loved to see the Father in action, to work and walk with him. That was the greatest thing there. Loved the men there. Same men with same problems as here. God willing, I will be there next fall, and Masha in spring. We’ll se what the Lord is doing there.

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