Thursday, September 8, 2016

Keeping Humble

My car, my phone, and Sasha’s food processor all had something in common:  they all needed to be brought in for repairs yesterday.  This gave Sasha and me a chance to take a nice long walk.

It didn’t start with a walk.  It started with a six-block drive to the mechanic.  I had been dreading this drive ever since I discovered that our car was making a lot of noise two days earlier.  I started up the engine and the entire neighborhood shook as if a massive thunderstorm had just rolled in overhead.  The earth trembled on its foundations, and men and women ran for the mountain hoping to seek refuge in caves.

Needless to say, Sasha and I were utterly mortified.  We considered driving down a one-way street to get to the mechanic a little faster, but we decided to go for safety over speed.

When we pulled up to the shop Nick the mechanic was waiting for us.  Apparently he heard a business opportunity coming blocks away.  Nick and I are on a first name basis.  He’s a friendly guy who always greets me with a smile.  Most mechanics are friendly people in Bulgaria.  Nick is a cut above which is pleasant for me as I am the owner of a 15 year-old car and have to spend a good amount of time at his garage.

Nick knew right away what the problem was, and said he would get to it the following day.

Now that we were without a car, Sasha and I had to walk to the local mall.  It’s an easy 10-minute walk down hill from Nick’s to Park Center Mall located on the edge of Sofia’s Yujen Park (South Park).  There we went to the Telenor shop to have my phone looked at.  We explained to them that the phone was not starting up when we pressed the power button.  We took it out to demonstrate and it started right up.  We thanked the lady for her amazing repair job and outstanding service and walked out amid the smiles and chuckles of the Telenor employees.

This is where our walk got interesting.  We had to make our way through the west side of Lozenets.  (Lozenets is the name of our part of town.)  West Lozenets is very different than East Lozenets where we live.  West Lozenets is a maze of narrow streets going up and down the steep slopes of the neighborhood.  It is a place that works your leg muscles in ways you never thought possible.  It was into this labyrinthine place that we began our quest for the appliance repair store.

After burning several hundred calories, we found the place.  We showed the lady the part we needed replaced, and she told us she would be more than happy to order it.  All we needed was the REF number off of the bottom of the machine.  We left the bottom of the machine at home, so no part was ordered.  On the bright side though, at least we know where to go now.

On the way home, Sasha gave me an amazing lesson in Bulgarian grammar.  One of the great things about being married to a Bulgarian is that you get free language instructions.  Sasha has been patiently putting up with my many errors for years now.

We made our way back up the hill to the safety and security of East Lozenets and our home.  We were several pounds lighter and eagerly awaiting the day when our car would be working again.

Repairing things is one of the aspects of life in a second-language that keep me humble.  Everything takes a bit more effort in Bulgarian, even when you have a native speaker standing right there with you.  Yet it's part of the adventure living in another country.

I love it!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Flower or Tree?

It has been my experience that there are two kinds of ministry workers.

The first kind is the project worker.  Project workers go to a location and do a specific project.  The results typically come quickly and dramatically.  Often times the worker will finish the project and move on to another project.  The results are like flowers.  They are pleasant, beautiful, produced quickly, and yet also quickly seem to fade.  The advantage for the project ministry workers is that they are constantly seeing something happen.  The disadvantage is that the results tend to fade over time.

The second worker is the roots worker (called so because he puts down roots).  He stays somewhere for a long time, and he makes a lasting impact.  The results are like a tree.  At first a tree is indistinguishable from a weed.  Then as time goes on it changes to a scraggly pathetic looking thing that just seems to be taking up space.  Eventually it turns into a young tree that is recognized as a tree but is still useless.  Then after years and years it becomes something mighty that can only be removed by great force.

Years ago I came to the realization that Sasha and I are roots workers.  We are here in Bulgaria for the long-term.  It’s true that we do have project-like ministries from time to time.  Our work with refugees a couple years back is a good example of a project ministry, but like the flower it was, it has now faded as the need has faded.

Our bigger work of impacting lives here will take longer, and as such it has looked much like a scraggly weed for years.  Today, I realized just how far it has come.

Every year our leadership has us fill out forms for our city team asking about what we have done over the past year.  Normally this is not a very exciting project for me, and I tend to get a bit discouraged while thinking that there is so much more that needs to be done.

This year was a little different.  As I compared numbers from earlier years to this year, I noticed that things have changed.  Our numbers have gone up noticeably.  Now I’m not about the numbers.  I do what I do in obedience to Christ, and I trust the Holy Spirit for the results.  Yet I was pleasantly surprised to see that our little ministry in Sofia has grown from a weed look alike into a full-fledged sapling.  We have a long way to go before we become a mighty tree.  We may not even live to see that happen.  Yet it is encouraging to see that we are making an impact in Sofia

Come join us.  Plant a seed.  See what you end up growing on the ReachGlobal Sofia Team.

A long time ago this tree was planted in our neighborhood in Sofia.  Now it's the tallest thing around.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Georgi Alexiev

My Father and Mother in law

Throughout my life there have been many people I have looked up to.  There was something about them that I wanted to have in my life.  Over the years the number of such people has shrunk significantly either because I achieved the attribute in the person I looked up to or (as was more often the case) because they turned out to not be as amazing as I once believed.  My father in law was a person I looked up to until the day he died; a day that sadly was today.

Georgi Alexiev was born in 1949 to Boris and Stefka.  He was born 4 years after communism was forced upon his home country of Bulgaria.  He never liked it, and he was happy when it ended.  He would often tell me how much he admired Ronald Reagan for helping to end communism and restore freedom.  He loved his country and was a true patriot.  One day as I was driving with him over the mountains I mentioned how beautiful Bulgaria is.  He responded by telling me that it is a piece of heaven.

Georgi was a hard-working man who contributed much to society.  He was an engineer who helped developed many infrastructure improvements in Bulgaria.  My favorite is the Yastrebets lift that carries passengers from Borovets resort to the Yastrebets peak on Mount Rila several thousand feet up.  Every time I ride it I think of him.

He worked hard and in sometimes dangerous conditions.  This allowed him to retire early, but it did not keep him from working.  He continued to have side jobs working on other projects in and around his home town of Kosenets where he was loved by everyone.  He was not one to just sit around and do nothing.

Yet for all his accomplishments, the one he was most proud of was his family.  When he passed away late this morning he did so surrounded by pictures of his 4 grandchildren in the house his grandfather built and in the room where his father died.  Family was very important to Georgi.  He loved his wife Maria, and two daughters Stefka and Sasha dearly.  It is my hope that I can be as loving of a husband and father to Sasha and my daughters as he was a father and a grandfather to them.

The young Alexievi family:  Maria, Sasha, Stefka, and Georgi

He was a great man, and I can’t think of the best words to send him off, so I will borrow from Rich Mullins:

“This life has shown me how we’re mended and how we’re torn
How it’s ok to be lonely as long as you’re free
Sometimes my ground was stony
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only you can make it what it had to be
And now that it’s done . . .
When I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
It’ll be like a candle light in central park
And it won’t break my heart to say 

Сбогом тъст ми.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


The Nessebar land bridge leading to the Old Town
Last weekend Sasha and I left the kids with some friends in Sofia and took a trip to the Black Sea in celebration of 15 years of marriage.  We went to our favorite Black Sea city, Nessebar.  There we enjoyed hours of long walks on the golden beaches thinking back on the decade and a half of marriage we have both enjoyed, as well as engaged in a healthy bit of tourism in town.

Nessebar is a pretty cool place.  Being on the Black Sea makes anything better, but in the case of Nessebar, that's just the icing on the cake.  The Old Town part of the city is located on a peninsula that used to be an island.  (A man made land bridge now connects it to the mainland.)

Old Town was originally a Greek village.  Later it became Roman and then Byzantium and then Bulgarian and then Ottoman and then back to Bulgarian again.  Throughout its long history, it has remained quite a remarkable city.  It is a small island, but it is covered with ancient sites and churches.

Yet despite being a historian's paradise, it is also a vibrant tourist town full of shops, restaurants, and all kinds of aquatic activities.  It is also the year round home to many people.  (Not to mention cats.)

History, swimming, boating, and all around fun; Bulgaria's coast is a great place for an inexpensive and relaxing vacation, and we happen to live less than 4 hours away!  Yet another reason I love living in Bulgaria.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

End of the School Year

At the beginning of the school year I took a position teaching Bible at the school where my girls attend.  I have enjoyed 9 months of teaching some wonderful kids from around the world.  They are all very smart and did an amazing job handling some deep concepts including bibliology, soteriology, pneumatology, anthropology, christology, and theology proper.  (Although I did not use these terms with them.  They are grade schoolers after all.)

For most of the students, this was their first year in Bulgaria, so as they were going through culture shock and language learning they also had to deal with me.  Yet they all did exceedingly well.

Today, I gave them their final test.  They are a great group of kids and I hope they all have a wonderful summer.  They enjoy it after all the hard work they put in.

I will miss teaching them.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Dawn of the Second Generation

In 1989 Communism collapsed in Bulgaria.  Shortly there after, missionaries from several organizations came to the country.  This first generation did a lot of great things.  They told people about Jesus and talked about ideas and concepts that were forbidden for decades.

27 years have passed since then, and most of that generation have left Eastern Europe.  They have either retired to America, or moved on to another job.  There are still a few of them left, and I value them greatly.  These are the spiritual fathers and mothers to people like my wife who first learned of life with Jesus through them, and they are big brothers and sisters to people like me.

A while back, a dear friend of mine was lamenting at the loss of this older generation.  She talked about how they inspired us and spurred us on as we (the second generation) came to Eastern Europe.  I thought deeply about her words, and then this thought hit me.  They are gone.  That makes us the older generation.

Now, in the words of Denis from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m 37.  I’m not old.”  I mean, yes I do have the occasional stiffness that comes with being over 30, but I have plans to summit a mountain with some friends this weekend.  I’m far from being an old man.

Yet, I have come to realize that it is time for us to be spiritual big brothers and sisters.  It is time for us to spur others on.  We have been given a gift, and we are to pass it on.

Younger ministry workers are coming to Bulgaria on a regular basis.  We have an opportunity to invest in them, and I love doing so.

In the same way, there are many potential national leaders.  They need spiritual development.  We can mentor them and help them grow to their full potential.

But we can’t do it alone.

I am looking for people to join us and become the second generation for Eastern Europe.

Will you join us?

Eight members of the second generation