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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

No Mud For Me, Thanks!

People often wonder why I left America to live in Bulgaria.  This question has been raised on both sides of the ocean.  Why would I move to Bulgaria when all of the comforts of America were available to me?

First of all, it's not like Bulgaria is a terribly uncomfortable place.  I like it here.  No, that’s inaccurate.  I love it here.  I love the people, I love the land, I love the history, and I love the beauty.  It’s a great place to live.  I can hardly count myself among the martyrs while being in such a wonderful country.

That being said, America is an amazing place.  Just compare America with the kinds of trouble that exist around the world today.  In the middle-east people flee for their lives as a terrorist group wages an unspeakable war.  In Eastern Europe a tyrant carves up Ukraine.  In Western Europe refugees flood in from war torn countries by the millions while terrorist set off bombs to pointlessly kill people because they don’t approve of their culture.  In North Korea people starve while their fat little dictator builds a failed nuclear program.

Health concerns around the globe continue to be a major problem.  Basic sanitation eludes much of the world’s population.  I have heard that over a billion people still have to go outside to use the toilet.

Meanwhile, in America the big conflict today seems to be whether or not a man who feels like a woman can use the women’s bathroom, and the biggest health concern is that people have too much food.  We Americans sometimes forget how good we have it.

So why would I leave?  Why would I raise a family in a different part of the world?  Why would I give up the comforts of America?  Am I a fool who follows God’s will because I’m too stupid to understand the value of pleasure?  Am I really so easily pleased that I don’t care to live in the greatest country on earth?

Actually I am not easily pleased.  That’s why I followed God’s calling to move to Bulgaria, and why I will continue to follow His calling no matter where He sends me.

C. S. Lewis said it best:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

All of the simple pleasures mentioned are things I enjoy.  But I will not be a satisfied ignorant child who spends his life making mud pies while missing something so much better.

I love serving God.  I love what it does in me and to those around me, and I will continue to do it as long as I can.  There is nothing that compares with it.

No mud for me thanks.  Who's up for the beach?