Friday, December 28, 2012

The Top of Bulgaria

This afternoon, Sasha, Kenny, and I took a cable car up Rila (a big Bulgarian mountain) to a point near Musala (the highest point in the Balkans).  From there you can see a large part of Bulgaria, and even Serbia on a good day.  Here is what we saw.





The view on the way up and down was breathtaking enough.



The big tough mountain climber.



A beautiful woman on a beautiful mountain.



It will be nine years next month since we first went up together.  It was fun to be back.



Do you think we can climb to the top?



Maybe we should wait for better weather.




Beautiful views of Bulgaria on the left and the right.



Team Sofia, at the top of Bulgaria.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bulgarian Christmas

As requested, today I'm going to tell you a bit about how Christmas is celebrated in Bulgaria.

This year we went to Kostenets to have dinner with Sasha's family.  This was the first year we were all together.  Four generations of our Bulgarian family in one house.  It was such a blessing to celebrate the birth of Jesus with loved ones.

The big meal is on Christmas Eve.  It is a delicious meal that, according to tradition, consists of an odd number of dishes.  I was asked to read the Lord's prayer in Bulgarian.  (They are my in-laws remember.  It is their job to torture me.)  We then enjoyed our traditional meatless Bulgarian dishes.  Some of the regular Christmas dishes consist of the following:


Tikvenik:  A sweet flaky pastry made with pumpkin and spices.


Sarmi and Palneni Chushki:  These are stuffed cabbages and stuffed peppers.  Usually they are stuffed with rice, ground meat, and spices, but being Christmas Eve, the meat is left out.  You do not miss it.  They are delicious, and my personal favorite Bulgarian Christmas dish.


Bob:  Bob is the Bulgarian word for beans.  Bulgarian beans are great, and a regular at meals throughout the year.  Yet everything tastes better at Christmas.


Koledna Pitka:  The Christmas bread is one of the most fun aspects of the meal.  The bread is always good, but the fun part is the coin inside.  The one who finds the coin is said to be predicted to have good fortune in the coming year.  You can see part of the loaf here, and Sophie's bread on her plate above it.  As you can see, Sophie looked very hard for the coin in her bread.  Her Aunt Stefka was the lucky one this year.


Walnuts:  If your walnut is good inside you are said to be predicted to have good health in the new year.  Mine was black.


Of course, one must have something to drink when one eats.  No eggnog at this Christmas feast.  Here are the Bulgarian favorites:



Kompot:  This is a delicious homemade fruit drink.  It has pieces of fruit in it, and it is very tasty.  I don't know how it is made, but I had three glasses anyway.


Wine and Rakia:  Wine is very common at many Bulgarian gatherings, as is Rakia.  You know what wine is.  Rakia is a strong Bulgarian beverage similar to whiskey.  In our case, only the men had the Rakia.  Both drinks were locally made.

That was Christmas Eve.  No one left hungry, and it was quite good.  Other then eating, we also exchanged gifts.  We had a great time together, an there was much joy as there should be on Christmas in any country.


Christmas day we hung around Kostenets for a while.  Sasha's folks were making a delicious Christmas lunch that no one could pass up.  After a morning of sledding, we went back to the house for this:


Cabbage salad:  Made with pickled cabbage.  Having lived in Poland for four years, I love pickled cabbage.


Roasted Rabbit:  I did not miss the lack of meat on Christmas Eve, but I appreciated its return on Christmas.  For those of you who have not had rabbit.  It is very good.  This was one of the best I have ever had.


Rice Stuffing:  Roasted in the Rabbit, this stuffing was made of rice and had the rabbit liver and heart mixed in.  It was great!  Serving it in Polish pottery made it even better.


Add some mashed potatoes to the meal, and you have a lunch that rivals Thanksgiving dinner.


Baklava:  No Christmas dinner is complete without a sweet finish.  For those of you who have never tried Baklava before, it is teeth melting in its sweetness and very very good.  I love it, but be warned, if you go back for seconds you risk falling into a three day sugar coma.

After lunch we packed up the car and headed back to Sofia.  We spent the afternoon opening and playing with presents.  It was a great Christmas.

We hope you and your family had a great Christmas as well!  Happy birthday to the King!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Boza

For those of you who don't know, boza is a popular Bulgarian breakfast drink.  It is made of fermented flower mixed with water and sugar.  It has a very low alcohol content.  It is known to often be disliked by foreigners.  In all my time in Bulgaria I have never tried it.  That is, until last night.

I decided a few months ago that it was probably time for me to take the plunge and give boza a try.  Then I thought it would be a good idea to wait until our teammate Kenny arrives in the country so that we could try it for the first time together as a team bonding experience.  (At least that's what I told myself.  Subconsciously I think I was trying to postpone the inevitable.)  Last night was the night.  We poured ourselves a glass and made a little toast.


It smelled like cat food.  It tasted sweet, like cat food mixed with honey.  Now, in boza's defense, Sasha said that this particular boza seemed to be pretty bad.  Never the less, these were our reactions.

Kenny

Me
Much to Kenny's honor, he finished his glass.  Sasha and I did not.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thank You Cards

Around Christmas, Sasha and I send out thank you cards to all of our supporters.  We have 19 churches, and over 40 individual supporters who gave to our work in Bulgaria this year.  They will each get a hand written note from us thanking them for making our being in Bulgaria possible.

I love sending out these cards because it reminds me of all the wonderful people around the world who care enough about the people of Bulgaria to sacrifice their own finances to help share the message of Jesus with them.  Sending these cards also serves as a reminder of how seriously I need to take my job.  I have about 60 donors that I'm accountable to, and I want to do the best job possible to make sure their donations are used well.

This year as I was writing the cards I thought about the envelopes.  (For our younger readers, an envelope is a sleeve of paper that covers a letter or card to protect it while it is transported great distances over several days.  The envelope also contains the address information of both the sender and the receiver.  This was the primary means of sending mail before the computer era.  Still confused?  Ask your folks.)  When I get a letter in the mail, I care very little about the envelope.  I look at it to see who the letter is from.  I then open it, remove the letter, and throw the envelope away.  All the envelope is for is to make sure the message makes it to its target audience securely.

In a way, I'm like an envelope.  I have a message that I carry inside me.  It is a message that is vitally important to deliver.  My main purpose in life is to deliver that message.  I am not responsible for whether or not that message is accepted or rejected.  I merely have to deliver it.  Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he wrote about us being jars of clay in 2 Corinthians 4:7.  We are ordinary, but the message (or treasure as Paul put it) is very valuable.

Please pray that we will all be good "envelopes" for the message of salvation through Jesus; especially now as Christmas approaches and we remember His coming.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Languages

This morning I was reflecting on learning languages.  I've lived in Europe for over 6 years now, and in that time I have spent about 30 months in full time language study and achieved fluidity in two languages that I did not previously know.  Now anyone who has learned another language knows that I am not done learning.  I'm not even done learning English.  Just a few weeks ago I learned an English word I had never heard before.  (Skeuomorphic)  Naturally there are many thousands more Bulgarian and Polish words that I have yet to learn.

I am of the opinion that if you are going to live in another country for any extended period of time, learning the local language is important.  Naturally it is important for communication, but if you know English well you can probably survive in most European countries on that alone.  The real importance is in quality of life.

Now, I'm married to a Bulgarian.  I have family members that speak little to no English.  On top of that, my two best friends are Polish and Texan, so getting good at other languages has to be a priority for a guy like me.  For the rest of you though, if you are living outside of your native language and don't learn the language of your neighbors you will miss out on so many of life's joys.  Cultural events, local TV shows, sitting down for a meal or drinks with your neighbors, none of these can be appreciated without knowing the language well.

Without knowing the language, every conversation is like a conversation with this guy.


When I finished my full time study of Polish several years ago, I was invited over to my teachers house for a meal.  I sat and talked with him, and his family for a couple hours entirely in Polish (even though several of them spoke great English).  I remember thinking how nice it was to have gotten to a point where talking in Polish was an enjoyment just like it was in English.  When we moved to Bulgaria, I worked hard to get to that level quickly because I knew what I was missing.  Living without the language is living a half life.

Different people have different levels of ability when it comes to learning a language.  If you are on the lower end of that scale and are frustrated, you may think that you cannot cut it because you lack talent.  Don't give up.  I'm sure most of us know someone who was not very athletic who decided one day to run a marathon and did.  It took them months if not years of training to get to where they needed to be, but they did it regardless of talent.  Motivation is key, and the reward is worth it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Taking the Plunge

Have you ever jumped off a high dive or a cliff?  As you stand on the edge you are excited and a bit afraid.  Then you jump.  In a split second you go from excitement to fear and back to excitement again.  Then you hit the water and feel a sting.  Depending on how you land, that sting can be with you for a second or several days.  A split second later the sting is overshadowed by the shock of the cold water.  You quickly get over the shock and acclimate to the temperature around you.  You may even swim under water for a few seconds before your lungs remind you that you need to come up for air.

Tonight I was thinking about diving.  I did this a lot as a kid having grown up in a land with over 10,000 lakes.  It is, in many ways, a very fast picture of what moving to another country is like.  At first you are excited and a little scared as you begin your time abroad.  Then one day a sting followed by a shock hits you.  Depending on how you hit this point, the sting may be with you for a short time or a long time.  After the shock, things normalize until the day comes that you realize it has been a while since you have come up for air.  Once you come up for air, you can swim around in your new culture for a long time and feel right at home.  You may find yourself gasping for breath every so often, and you will never totally fit in (divers never become fish), but you will (probably) get to feel right at home.

Of course some people can't swim.  And they should not dive.  In the same way some people can't fit in in a second culture and they should not try to be what they are not.  God did not make them for cross-cultural work, so they should be satisfied to take vacations abroad but not live there.  There is nothing wrong with this.  We all have different skills and gifts.

I took the dive into Bulgaria almost two years ago.  I can safely say that I'm swimming as well in Bulgarian culture as I would in a lake back in Minnesota.  I really like it here, and I have no desire to get out of the water just yet.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a bit different in Bulgaria.  This is mainly because it is not a holiday here.  Schools and work are open, and daily life continues uninterrupted.  (There is also no Black Friday tomorrow.)  While we prepared a feast, the rest of Bulgaria just went about its business.

It was a great day for us though.  After dropping Sophie off at school, we started cooking.  Okay, Sasha started cooking.  I just did stuff like pealing potatoes, boiling water, and washing dishes for Sasha to use while preparing the next dish.


This was the first time we did everything ourselves.  Every other Thanksgiving celebration we have attended or hosted has been the kind where everyone brings a dish or two and the hostess makes the turkey.  Not this time though.  This year we were almost alone.  The only guests we had were Baba and Diado (Grandma and Grandpa), and as they were coming from Kostenets by train, it was impractical for them to bring anything.  We bought the bread, but the rest was made from scratch.

It was a great meal.  We really enjoyed ourselves.  My father-in-law quickly learned the joys of gravy, and this was the first year any of our girls actually looked forward to the turkey.  After dinner, I helped Sophie with her homework (remember, it's no holiday in Bulgaria), and Sasha cleaned the table to make way for pie.  After Baba and Diado left, we broke out Small World, and played a couple games.


Thanksgiving is great!



Today is also a landmark day for me.  It is the longest I have been out of the U.S. in one stretch.  True, we have been living overseas for 6 years now, but I always had a reason to go back for a bit every now and then.  Today I broke my previous record of time away.  There are things I miss in America, but I also love it here.  Besides, I have a beautiful wife who has embraced America and its culture.  I feel at home wherever I am in the world as long as she is with me.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday Afternoon Surprise

Early this afternoon we got a call from the mom of one of Veronica's classmates.  She and her daughter wanted to come over for a visit.  Sasha quickly told me to put my tools away and stop my Saturday afternoon projects because we were having guests.

As I type this, Sasha is upstairs conversing with the mom over cookies, and the girls are playing with Veronica's friend.

One thing I love about our neighborhood is that it actually feels like a neighborhood.  We have friends just stop by for the fun of it.  It seems to be easier to connect with those around us than it was last year in our old neighborhood.

I'm very glad to see Sasha and the girls connecting with our neighbors.  It makes home feel more like home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mark 2 Ministry

I recently finished a personal study on Mark.  Today I listened to a sermon by Pastor Dan Reid of Maranatha Church in Rice Lake, Wisconsin on Jesus' healing of a paralyzed man as told in Mark 2.  That's twice in just a few weeks when this story has been brought to mind.

This is an interesting and rather strange story that is a favorite of Sunday school classes around the world.  Four men try to get to Jesus with their paralyzed friend to have him healed.  The house where Jesus is speaking is so packed full of people that they can't get to him, so they climb up on the roof and dig a hole to lower their friend down to Jesus.  (How many of us have four friends who would destroy property for us.)

The thing that strikes me about this story is what Jesus does.  The first thing he does is tell the man that his sins are forgiven.  This, naturally, ticks off the religious leaders of the day as Jesus appears to be playing God.  (Of course, we know He was not playing God at all.)

After forgiving this man's sins, Jesus turns to the religious leaders and asks them, "Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'?"  The obvious answer is that it is easier to say "Your sins are forgiven," because one cannot measure the reality of the statement.  If I were to tell a paralytic to get up and walk and he did not (as would likely be the case) I would look like a crazy fool.  If I were to tell someone that I forgave their sins (which is in essence a claim to be God) no one could prove that I had not forgiven them.

Jesus does not stop with merely the forgiveness of sin though.  He then goes on to heal the man who walked out of the house on his own power.

The theological ramifications of this passage are obvious.  Jesus demonstrated his deity in forgiving the man's sin.  He backed up his claim by healing the man's illness.  Jesus demonstrated his power over sin and sickness.

Today I though of an application to this passage that had not before crossed my mind.  Over the past few months I have been involved with a sort of think tank that is looking to integrate the spiritual and physical aspects of ministry.  Jesus demonstrated in Mark 2 just how important that is.  If we merely tell people of the life changing aspects of the Gospel in the spiritual sense, and yet do not demonstrate it by ameliorating the felt needs of those around us, how will anyone see the reality of what Jesus' love has done in our lives.  We will appear to be spiritual people who are useless in the so called real world.  However, if we focus only on the felt needs of those around us we will fail to accomplish the most important part of our life on earth by communicating the message of God's transforming grace given to us freely through Jesus' death and resurrection.  We need both.

The paralytic received two gifts that day.  Those around him probably thought that the second gift was the better one as it was the one they could see.  But what good is it to have a whole body for the duration of our life on Earth, and yet enter eternity guilty of sin?  The first gift was by far the greater.  The second was the proof of the first.

We tend to view ministry as either spiritual or felt needs.  Jesus did not separate them.  Why should we?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

CTL

I'm in Hungary at the moment attend the City Team Leaders' conference.  We have been talking a lot about global partnerships.  This makes a lot of sense to me as the Church is meant to be from all nations.  It only makes sense that the Church's ministry be from all nations as well.

I was reflecting today on just how natural global relationships have become.  My two closest friends are a Polish guy I met while living in Szczecin, and a Texan who is married to a Canadian.  I'm married to a Bulgarian.  I currently have cousins living in Africa, Asia, and North America.  I have never had an English conversation with my father-in-law.  Every Wednesday, Sasha takes the girls over to the home of a British woman living in Sofia.  Last year I taught English to men from Turkey living in Bulgaria.  The list goes on and on.

In the age of the internet, global communication quick and effortless.  Just look at the map on this blog.  I've had readers from every continent except Antarctica.

It is evident that international relationships mean more today then they ever have in the past.  As a ministry leader, I need to evaluate how best to serve not just in my own city, but globally.

Please pray that I do so.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Earthquake Damage

Back in May, the Sofia region suffered a major earthquake.  This was back before we moved to our current house.  Our house is old, but it seemed to withstand the earthquake unharmed.  Now however, it appears that there was some damage.

A few weeks ago we noticed that our downstairs bathroom was leaking from the roof.  We checked the upstairs bathroom and could find no reason for the leak.  The only explanation we could think of was that there was a leaky pipe between the two bathrooms.  The plumber came and inspected the problem, and it appears that we were right.  When he took down the false ceiling he found this.


The plumber (who knows this house well) thinks that the damage may have been caused by the earthquake.  He will come back on Thursday and fix the pipe.  He thinks it should be a one day repair job.  Hopefully this is the only damage we will find from the earthquake.

Monday, September 17, 2012

First Day of School

This morning, school started across Bulgaria.  Sophie began her second year in the Bulgarian system, and Veronica had her first day of Bulgarian school.  Both of them seemed to love it.

Not only was today the first day of school, but it was also St. Sofia day.  It is a day that celebrates St. Sofia, and her three children Faith, Hope, and Love.  It is a big holiday in Bulgaria for obvious reasons given the name of the capital.  It is also Sophie and Veronica's name day.  (Sophie for having the same name as Sofia, and Veronica because the Bulgarian word for Faith is Viara.)  The girls followed the Bulgarian tradition of bringing flowers for their teachers for the first day of school, and chocolates for their classmates for their name days.

I have mentioned in previous blog posts how Bulgarian schools are not afraid to include religious aspects like American schools are.  This was very clear today.  Being the first day of school and a religious holiday, there was an Orthodox priest on hand to bless the start of the school year.  This was more then a simple nondescript prayer or hymn you might hear at a graduation ceremony in the U.S.  It was a full fledged liturgy.  He blessed the whole school and parents by sprinkling us with water, and he presented the school with an icon of Sofia and her daughters after blessing it.  The director of the school and the education official both kissed the icon, and the cross the priest was holding.

As an American this was a bit of a surprise to me.  I was not bothered or offended by it even though I am not Orthodox.  I found it curious.  As a boy my school sang both Christmas and Hanukkah songs at the Christmas presentation every year (By the way did you know Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.  See John 10:22.), but we never had a religious service during a school function.  I have to respect a school system that does not quell culture and spiritual traditions out of a fear of offending people.

After the service, there was dancing, a series of poems and songs, and then a parade in which our girls marched into the school with their classmates to the ringing of a school bell.

Class is in session.  Here we go!

Sophie with her teachers.



Veronica with her flowers ready for her first day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Changes at the Airport

Yesterday we dropped of some friends at the airport.  As we got off the elevator to get in line for check-in, we were greeted by a security officer who asked us if we were all flying.  I informed her that only three of us were flying.  Sasha and I were just the "porters."  We were then informed that only those flying would be allowed to proceed to the check-in area.

We were a little stumped by this.  We were all used to not being able to escort our friends to the gate and watch them board the aircraft.  It has been over a decade since gate good-byes were a regular practice in most airports, but not being allowed even to go to the check-in with friends was a new one for us.

I asked the security guard why this was the case.  She told me that it is a new security measure related to Israel.  That was all I could get out of her on the subject.  Perhaps this was a one time thing for some dignitary of Israel's protection.  Perhaps it has something to do with the terrorist attack in Burgas earlier this summer, or the fact that yesterday was September 11th.

I have heard that flights to and from Israel are no longer posted on the departure and arrival screens in Bulgarian airports.  I certainly saw nothing listed yesterday.  Perhaps this added security at the entrance will be a permanent thing, or maybe it is just when there is travel to or from Israel in progress.  If it saves lives I'm all for it.  We all know Israel has its share of enemies, and I do not want to continue to see Bulgaria serving as a proxy battleground against God's chosen people.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Subway or Museum

On August 31st, Sofia opened its second subway line.  The final stop on the line is just a few blocks from our house.  The girls have been looking forward to taking the underground train, so today, just for fun, we all took a ride down town.

While the construction workers were digging out the tunnels for this new train they discovered something they didn't expect.  Under Sofia lies an ancient and all but forgotten city that dates back at least 2,500 years.  I knew they discovered ruins and had to take precautions to preserve the historic artifacts they discovered, but I had no idea just how much they found.

We got off the train at the Serdika stop in the heart of downtown Sofia.  Within a few blocks we could walk to the Presidential complex, the primary judicial building, or the Bulgarian Parliament.  We could see the main city mosque, a prominent Orthodox Christian cathedral, and one of the largest synagogues in Europe.  Just above the station is the statue of St. Sofia that replaced the statue of Lennon after the fall of Bulgaria's socialistic dictatorship toward the end of the last century.  Yet we were not looking up at any of theses amazing sites.  We were looking down as an army of excavators worked in the scorching heat to uncover the mysteries of Bulgaria's ancient history.

The station itself is pretty impressive as well.  Having lived in Chicago for 4 years, I am no stranger to subways.  This one is unlike any I have ever seen.  Along the platform are artifacts in glass cases, and all around you remnants of a lost city are open to view.  It was more like a museum then a mass transit station.

It is very exciting to be in Sofia as these discoveries are being made.  Our girls learned a bit about the history of their mother's country today.  So did we.







Friday, August 10, 2012

London in Bulgaria


It has been interesting to watch the Olympics this year.  Olympic viewing in Bulgaria is quite different then in the U.S.  There are so many American athletes that American sports channels can only focus on a fraction of them.  Unless there is an American superstar present there is little chance that a given event will get much air time.

The Bulgarian contingent is much smaller, so more sports featuring other countries are covered.  Also, when a Bulgarian competes it is a big deal.  When a Bulgarian wins a medal it is an even bigger deal.

Last night Bulgaria got its first medal of 2012.  The amazing female wrestler Stanka Hristova brought home the silver in the 72k Freestyle wrestling category.  We were all cheering her on in the gold medal match against Russia’s Natalia Vorobieva.  After the match during the press interview Stanka was unusually hard on herself for her loss.  At one point the journalist interviewing her reminded Stanka of what an amazing accomplishment a silver medal is.  I was a little puzzled as to why she was beating herself up so much until I heard her followup interview this afternoon.

Stanka does not just view this as a personal defeat, but as a defeat for her country that she brought about.  She saw herself in a position to bring home gold for all of Bulgaria, and possibly the only gold for this year.  She feels like she let the whole country down by bringing home the silver.

This also is quite different then the way most Americans athletes view the games.  If one American gets silver instead of gold hardly anyone notices.  As of the writing of this blog, America has 39 gold medals, 25 silver, and 26 bronze.  One upgrade in any category would hardly be noticed.  However when a country has only one medal the color matters quite a bit more.

Personally I see Stanka Hristova as a great Olympian.  I believe most Bulgarians do as well.  She is, so far, the only Bulgarian to bring home a medal of any color this year.  Good job Stanka!  You did your country proud.

Monday, July 23, 2012

We Are a Team!

One of ReachGlobal's guiding principles is that we are team lead and team driven.  To quote the principle itself, "We are committed to team ministry lead by gifted leaders.  Confident in the strength and synergism of teams and that staff are most productive serving in ministry teams and community."

With this principle in mind, one of our main objectives in starting a city team in Sofia was to recruit a team.  Though recruiting has been at the front of my mind for years now, and something that Sasha and I have been praying for, I did not expect to see a new teammate come until at least 2015.  Thus, it was with great joy that I learned about Kenny Maple and his desire to come join us in Sofia for the next two years.

Kenny is currently a youth pastor in South Carolina.  His gifts, skills, and training give him great potential to be effective in Sofia.  He is raising support to join us this fall.  It is our hope to have him here in Bulgaria by November.  Please pray for a smooth transition for Kenny.  Specifically we ask that you pray for a quick decision on his visa, and that the remainder of his support will come in quickly.

If you are interested in donating to Kenny's ministry, let me know and I'll send you his information.

We are excited to have you Kenny!  Welcome to the team!


Kenny on a bike

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Attack in Burgas

Many of you may have heard that yesterday there was a terrible terrorist attack in Burgas, Bulgaria.  Burgas is one of the largest cities in Bulgaria, and the second largest on the Black Sea.  It is a port city, and home to one of Bulgaria's two main naval bases.  Several major resort cities are near Burgas, so it is also a major city for tourism.  (In fact, we visited it on vacation last summer.)


I'm not going to go into all the details of the attack.  The information keeps changing, and you can learn more from online news sources then you will be able to learn from me.  I just wanted to assure all of you who might be concerned that we are quite safe.  Burgas is over 200 miles from here, so we have not personally been effected in any way.


Please pray for the wounded and the families of the victims.  I don't know all the details, but this was a terrible and tragic attack by cowardly men primarily against Israeli citizens who were just visiting Bulgaria on vacation.  Yesterday was a sad day for Israel and Bulgaria.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Case for a Creator

I just finished Lee Strobel's book The Case for a Creator.  It is the third book in his "The Case for" series.  I've read his other books The Case for Christ, and The Case for Faith.  All of them are quite well written.  All three investigate the issues (respectively) of weather Jesus' and his disciples' claims about Him are valid, the Christian Faith is valid, and the thesis that the universe was created by a personal creator is valid.  Lee does so through a series of interviews with experts in various fields of theology, philosophy, and science.  He pelts the experts with difficult questions and records their answers.  He leaves the reader to come to his own conclusion of the evidence, though Lee's conclusions are quite obvious.

I prefer The Case for Christ over the other two, because through the process of writing that book Lee moved from an atheistic world view to becoming a follow of Jesus.  As such, his questions seemed far more probing then in the following two books because there was a side of him that really wanted to prove Jesus' claims to be false.  The fact that he then comes around and becomes a Christian made quite a powerful impression on me when I read it years ago.

That being said, The Case for a Creator is a great book in its own right.  Unlike the other books, this does not make a clear cut case for Christianity.  There are several faiths that hold to a personal creator.  They may also find arguments for their viewpoints in this book.

I picked up this book mostly for the scientific information it contained.  I long ago made up my mind about the universe being not only created, but fine tuned by a creator.  If a tornado goes through a junkyard and the next morning you find a perfectly working jet aircraft sitting there; you would not make the assumption that the tornado randomly formed the jet from garbage.  You would assume that someone made the jet and then it was placed in the junkyard.  When we see intricate systems we assume intelligent design.  The universe is far more intricately put together then any human contraption.  Therefore design by a super-intelligence seems to me to be a logical conclusion.

I enjoyed reading the arguments from science and philosophy.  I came to my own conclusions on each one, and if you are someone interested in the scientific evidence for creation I would highly recommend this book.  Read it and come to your own conclusions.  Either way, your life will be richer for having explored the profound mysteries of our origins.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fruit

One interesting cultural tidbit about Bulgaria is that it has great fresh fruit most of the year.  Right now, we are enjoying strawberries, cherries, and apricots.  Later in the year the most delicious plums and grapes will become available.  If you like fresh sweet fruit, Bulgaria is the place for you.

And I haven't even mentioned the vegetables.  Olives, cucumbers, onions, and my personal favorite, peppers, they are all great!  They are also cheap.  If you want a nice healthy nutritious meal, Bulgaria has a some great options.  Come give it a try.


Sasha's fresh strawberry pie.  Ready for eating at tonight's Bible Study.



"What puts the ap in apricot?"  -Lion

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dogs

Last week in Bulgaria, a man was mauled to death by a gang of dogs.  Wild dogs are quite common here in the city, but usually they keep to themselves.  They are often seen traveling in gangs of 3 to 5 and they are usually quite nice to humans as they realize that humans produce their food (garbage usually).  However, from time to time they turn mean.

None of us have ever been bit thank goodness.  The most frightening experience we have ever had happened one day when I was picking up Sophia from school.  Suddenly about 12 dogs appeared from all over and ran at full sprint barking down the street as if they hadn't eaten in weeks and there was a big pile of kibble waiting for them at their destination.  It shocked me and caused Sophie to cry, but there was no sign that they meant anyone ill will.

Last weeks incident was first time I have ever heard of a human being killed by dogs.  It is a clear sign that the dog situation has gotten out of hand.  I do not like the idea of Sasha taking one of the girls out for a walk only to be attacked by a gang of dogs, and on more then one occasion, while running, I have had dogs come after me.


As a child I had a fear of dogs.  This ended when I read Call of the Wild.  (Read chapter 2 if you want to learn why people don't need to fear dogs.)  That being said, the thought of my family being attacked like the Bulgarian man last week finally pushed me to get a collapsible baton for Sasha to carry on walks.  Hopefully she will never have to use it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Home At Last

We still have many boxes to unpack, but our new house is starting to feel like home.  The girls love our new neighborhood, and they have spent a good deal of time in the yard looking for a hedgehog that has been reported to live there.

I really like this neighborhood.  Not only is it closer to the city center and full of people, but there are local shops on almost every block which make it easier to get by without the use of a car.  There are also several parks nearby which make for a good escape from the crowded streets when we need a little time in nature.  Many of Sophie's classmates also live in the neighborhood as we are only a few minutes walk from her school.

Ministry activities are resuming bit by bit.  As you may remember, one of our frustrations with the move was that it brought our work to a halt just as it was starting to take off.  Please pray that we can quickly get back the momentum we had before the move.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

11 Years

Yesterday Sasha and I celebrated our 11th anniversary.  We put packing aside for the day, and went out without the kids to just have fun.  It was great just to be with her and think about the past 11 years and the lifetime of years ahead of us.

I have a great wife!  This was proven yet again yesterday when we went to see a movie and Sasha picked "Act of Valor."  No chick flick for us this year.

I love you babe!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Earthquake

I woke up in the middle of the night.  The bed was shaking violently.  At first I thought it was a dream.  It felt like we were in a cheap motel inches away from a fast moving train.  I thought, "That was strange," and started to go back to sleep when I noticed Sasha standing in front of me whispering in a panicked voice, "Did you just feel that earthquake."  I said, "Oh, so that's what that was."  Instantly an aftershock hit, and we decided to get the girls and get out of the house.  By the time we got to the girl's room the rumbling had long since stopped, so we just let them sleep and went back to bed ourselves.  We kept waking up though.  There were several aftershocks.

In the morning we learned that we were very close to the epicenter of a 5.8 earthquake.  The aftershocks went on for the whole night, and many people spent the night on the streets for safety.  In student town (which is about a mile from here) a couple of the apartment buildings were evacuated as a precaution.  There was damage done to a number of buildings.  We also saw a car on the news that had been smashed by falling debris.  One house in Sofia was destroyed by the quake (we have to go check to make sure it's not the house we just rented).  There were some injuries, but as of yet there have been no reported fatalities.  It was a bit of an adventure.

In the morning I asked the girls if they felt the quake.  None of them seemed to have noticed.

Move in Progress

We got the keys to our new home today.  Now to pack up everything and move.  Next Monday is the big moving day.  Wednesday the girls will go to Kostenets to spend a few days with Sasha's family while we pack up everything.  We are looking forward to next week when the move is over.

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Boss

Today is a bittersweet day for us.  Today the Sofia city team transitions from being part of ReachGlobal Europe-East to ReachGlobal Europe-South.  The transition makes sense.  Bulgaria is in the south of Europe, and we have ReachGlobal teams in countries around us that have not been in our region previous today.  Still there is an element of sadness in this transition.

Today we say good-bye to Jim Baker as our boss and we welcome Jen Cox as our new boss.  Jim, apart from being a good friend, was instrumental in establishing Sofia as a city team and Bulgaria as a ReachGlobal field.  I think I can safely say that without his support there would never have been a RG Sofia presence.  When we first approached the Europe Division leadership with the possibility of starting a team in Sofia, Jim was put in charge of evaluating if this would be a strategic city to put a team in as well as evaluating whether or not we were the right people to start the team.  He hardly knew anything about us or Bulgaria, but that quickly changed.  He soon latched onto our vision for Bulgaria, and helped make our presence here a reality.  He was our strongest advocate through the transition from Poland to Bulgaria, and he has worked hard to ensure our effectiveness since the field opened.  It is not often that one has the opportunity to have a boss who in seriously committed to your effectiveness in your job as well as your development as a human being.  Jim will remain a good friend even though we are losing him as a supervisor.

We are excited to welcome Jen as our new supervisor.  We had a chance to get to know her better earlier this month during the A3 planning sessions.  We are excited to begin our working relationship not only with her, but with our neighboring RG teams as well.  We look forward to years of working together.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Take Down

On the way home from a meeting this afternoon, Sasha walked past a group of about 15 men in masks armed with machine guns who had several guys laying face down on the ground in handcuffs.  This of course peeked her interest, so we made it a point to watch the evening news to see if we could get the whole story.

It turns out the police performed a major operation today.  In this operation they arrested notorious mobsters known as "The Hamster," and "The Eyes."  Sasha witnessed the arrest.

One of the arrested mobsters is already out.  The Hamster will likely remain in jail until tomorrow.  I think they are out on something like bail.

The mafia has quite a presence in Bulgaria.  In our neighborhood there is another big mob boss known as "The Tractor."  He lives just down the block.  He has been under arrest at least three times since we moved here.

Two more weeks until the move!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A3

Thursday through Saturday will be a blitz meetings with my current and future bosses.  We are going through a long term planning process called "A3."  I don't know too much about it yet, but I do know that "A3" stands for an "A3" size sheet of paper on which a long term (about 10 year) plan can be summarised.  I look forward to taking what we have learned in our first year and a half in Bulgaria and applying it to long term ministry goals.

Please join us in prayer for this time.  This is a very important weekend of planing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Coming Home

I'm a happy man today.  Sasha is on her way home!

It has been quite a week.  Everything went smoothly here on the home front.  The girls did all their schoolwork.  We took a trip to the zoo.  There was bike riding, and good family fun.  I also got some office work done, and caught up on some reading.  It did feel strange to spend all my time with the girls, but it was nice to be able to give Sasha a break and bond with my daughters at the same time.

Though things went well here in Sofia, the extended family went through a period of mourning.  Sasha's Grandpa passed away on Tuesday.  This was very sad for the whole family, though it was expected to happen sometime soon.  He was 89 years old and in failing health.  We all have fond memories of him, and he will be missed.

The girls were sad to hear of his passing.  They just met him last fall.  They still talk about the trip to meet Pradiado and Prababa (Great-grandpa and Great-grandma).  The girls were also sad that Baba and Diado had to leave.  They were watching the girls this week, but of course had to return to Drianovo for the funeral.

I was going to pack up the girls and go to the funeral as well, but my father in law informed me that the funeral would probably not be a good place for the girls.  He told me rather that it would be best to come to the 40 day remembrance service in June.

Sasha was sad to miss the funeral as well, but she also agreed that the 40 day service would be a better one to go to for the kids.  Besides, then we can all go.

Today, I will clean house in expectation of the queen's arrival.  It will be good to see her again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Women's Conference

As I type, Sasha is on her way to Spain for a week long women's conference hosted by ReachGlobal.  Since we joined the organization years ago, there have been several such conferences, but this is the first one Sasha has been able to attend.

I'm very glad that she was able to go this time.  It has been a stressful month of house searching with the knowledge that another move is on the horizon.  It was nice to send her off this morning knowing that she will have a week to relax and refresh with her fellow women.

It did not take long for the kids to notice she was gone.  Less then an hour after her plane took off, Alexis said, "I want my Mommy."  They are in good hands though, and Baba and Diado have come to visit.

Have a good time Sweets.  We'll miss you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Great Sasha's Day

Today is Sasha's day.  It is the anniversary of the day she became a U.S. citizen.  I got her a present and we went out this morning for a bit together to celebrate, but the real celebration came in the afternoon.

This afternoon we finalized the details on our new home.  It is a house with a yard closer to the center of town and near many public transportation lines including the new subway line that will open this fall.  It is also just a few blocks from Sophie's (and next year Veronica's) school.  The house did not have everything we wanted, but the owners were willing to lower the rent for us.  The pluses outweigh the minuses, and we look forward to moving in next month.

Tonight, as we celebrated over Chinese takeout, Sasha told me she was exhausted.  I can't blame her. It has been a long month of searching.  But the search is over.  Now all we need to do is move.  Well, at least the hardest part is over.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

It is Good Friday in America.  We have another week to go here in Bulgaria.  This morning I read the story of the death of Jesus as told by Mark.  I noticed something I had never noticed before.  Mark 15:31 reads, "In the same way, the chief priests and teachers of the law mocked him among themselves.  "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself!" (emphasis added).

I had never noticed before that their mocking of Jesus was not totally public.  Unlike others who were watching, they were not mocking Jesus directly.  They were patting each other on the back for a job well done.  They were murdering and proud of it.

My first thought was how vile they were.  Who would sin in such a way and be proud of it?  But then, I remembered all the sins I have done intentionally.  True, I have never murdered or even killed another human being, but I have intentionally hurt people just because I wanted to.  I have been proud that I did it, and considered it a job well done.  How much better am I really?

With this thought in my head, verse 37 hit me all the harder.  "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last."  It other accounts we read that this loud cry was, "It is finished."  This is a translation of a word which was used at the time by runners finishing a long race.  It was a yell of victory.  With this shout, he defeated the sin in humanity.  He defeated the sin in those mocking him.  He defeated the sin in those patting themselves on the back for his murder.

He defeated the sin in me.

He defeated the sin in you.

And that's not even the end of the story.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Off Her Feet

Sophie was having a hard time walking yesterday.  We thought it was just a pulled muscle or something, so we told her to rest and it would probably be better in the morning.  In the morning she woke up calling us to help get her out of bed.  She was almost entirely unable to walk.

We had her rest some in the morning but she was not improving, so we took her to see the doctor.  Some blood work and x-rays later it was discovered that her right hip has fluid buildup.  The doctor thinks it might be an immune system reaction to the lung infection she had months ago.  It should clear up in a week or so, but in the mean time she is spending her days on the couch looking at the beautiful spring weather wishing she could be outside.

There is nothing worse then a beautiful spring day when you are unable to enjoy it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

House for Sale

We just found out yesterday that our landlady is going to sell the house we are currently living in.  This means that we now are in the market for a new home.  We have a couple months to look.  There is time.  Needless to say, this came as a bit of a curve ball.

This turn of events may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  We have toyed with the idea of buying a house for a while now.  After nearly 11 years of marriage it is about time to actually have our own place.  We have been prevented from purchasing until now for several reasons, not the least of which is that we have almost constantly been in some state of transition.  There have, of course, been times of respite in our semi-nomadic life, but never for more than a couple of years at a time.

Now, however, things have changed for us.  Perhaps now is the right time to buy.  This move may the push we need.

Please pray for wisdom as we make a decisions regarding our next home.  If we do buy, please pray that we can get reasonable financing as well.  This could be one of the factors that makes the decision for us.

There is a lot to think about.  Please keep us in your prayers.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day of the Woman

Yesterday was the Day of the Woman here in Bulgaria.  We got a small present for Sophie's teacher, and the girls picked out some flowers for Sasha.  This is a fairly significant holiday here.  Flower shops were well stocked and most of them made a significant profit as mothers, grandmothers, teachers, and girlfriends were held in high honor for a day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

School Work


Today, when I went to pick up Sophie at school, I was approached by the grandmother of one of her classmates.  She introduced herself, though I remembered her from an earlier encounter.  She told me how she appreciated having Sophie in the class.  Apparently my daughter has taught her granddaughter some English (specifically the word, “eraser”).  It was nice to hear how these two girls have become friends.

The grandmother also reported how Sophie has been talking to her classmates more and more in Bulgarian.  This was very encouraging to hear.  It is difficult to tell how much she is learning because we rarely see her interact in class.  Yet it is nice to hear that other children are noticing improvement in her language skills.

She certainly has been working hard at understanding.  She comes back from class tired most days, yet her teacher continues to praise her ability to do the course work at a level above many of her classmates.  Sophie also continues to enjoy school.  I’m very proud of her.  If I were in her shoes I might want to stay home most days, but she keeps plugging away at her school work and making friends wherever she can.


Sophie and her Bulgarian homework

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Time Management


I'm learning more and more about the value of good time management.  I have kept a schedule for years, but recently it has been quite full.  As a schedule gets full, it becomes more and more necessary to schedule in margin times.

Margin times are blocks of time on the schedule that are purposely kept free.  Why is this important?  There are several reasons.  First of all, life is seldom tidy.  This is even more so the case when one lives in a second culture.  Things happen, or need to happen that we don’t expect.  Without free space in a schedule there is no buffer for these inevitable life events.

Second, I find I need margin because of the reality of ministry.  I'm here to work in the lives of people.  If I'm too busy to spend time with people then I might as well not be here.  I plan out my schedule because without a schedule I am at the mercy of serendipity and happenstance.  I would be leading a life of unintentionally.  It would be like eating by taking a handful of crumbs, tossing them up in the air, and letting whatever lands in your mouth be your lunch.  That being said, if I do not allow for margin then I will have to turn down opportunities to be with people in need.  Needs rarely fit into a schedule.

There are, of course, several other reasons to keep margin.  Our bodies and minds need breaks, and sometimes an activity takes longer then we expect.  The value of margin is self-evident to the busy man.

Currently, I am finding every week that my margin time is shrinking.  There is just too much work to be done here, and Sasha and I need teammates.  Please pray that the Lord would call people to join us here in Bulgaria.  We can't do this alone.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bible Study

Tonight we start a Bible study at our house.  It was actually the idea of the secretary at one of the English schools where Dave works.  It is a small group, but it is going to be fun.  We are planing on starting a 10 week Bible walk through course so that everyone can be sure to have a basic knowledge of the Bible before we go deeper.

Monday, February 13, 2012

More Snow

The extreme winter weather in Bulgaria this year has made life significantly more difficult.  Roads are hopelessly blocked with snow and ice in some regions, and in other regions serious flooding is a major problem. We live in the capital city and most roads are still very difficult to navigate.

This morning we were on the way to drop Sophie off at school and we turned around after about a half kilometer of driving as we realized that there was no safe way to get here there.  I'm trying to use the car as little as possible.  It is a very nice car, but it is not made for driving through six inches of snow on a regular basis.  It is rear wheal drive and rides low to the ground.  It has gotten stuck several times already this winter.  Had we attempted to complete our drive to school this morning we would certainly have ended up stuck again.

Pray for thawing in the frozen parts of the country and drying in the flooded parts.  It's pretty bad right now.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Women's Retreat

Sasha is out of town for the weekend on a women's retreat.  This leaves me home alone with the girls and the hamster and the snow.  It looks to be a pretty ordinary weekend with the exception of a birthday party that Sophie is going to for one of her classmates tonight.

Two whole days.  How will I make it without my beautiful lady?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Snowed In

We canceled activities today.  There has been a lot of snow, and the roads are not at all clear.  I have a nice car, but it is rear wheal drive and not able (even with my Minnesota driving skills) to navigate many roads in Sofia.

We are praying for a melting soon.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Sophie

7 years ago today our oldest daughter was born.  Today she is celebrating with her friends at school with doughnuts and games. She will come home for a lunch of crapes (as per her request), and later some present opening.  She does not know it yet, but she is getting a brand new shiny red 6-speed bike.

Happy birthday Sophie!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Snow Storm

I am told that this year Bulgaria is getting more snow then any winter in the past twenty years.  For the past two days it has been snowing almost non-stop.  I had a hard time driving Sophie to school today, but we made it.  I had an even harder time driving back up the hill to our house.

Things would not be so bad if there were two different factors at play.

First of all, the street cleaning crews are not getting the job done.  I have seen them at work, so I'm not going to blame them.  I don't exactly know where the blame lies, and I don't really care.  I would however really like to see the streets clean.  My guess is that there is just not enough equipment out there to keep up with the volume of snow falling.

We had this same problem in Minnesota in December 2010.  There was a massive snow storm.  One of the worst on record.  The plows could not clear the streets fast enough.  Were the plows of Minnesota in Sofia today, I think the roads would be in much better condition.  However the good folks at the Minnesota Department of Transportation probably have much better and much more equipment to deal with heavy snow falls.  Such equipment is not as necessary in Bulgaria.

Second there are a lot of inexperienced winter drivers.  The snow is coming down, but it is nothing that one might see in the mid-west U.S. in any given winter.  The problem is that folks around here are not used to adjusting their driving to accommodate the laws of physics as they relate to slushy roads.  I saw sedans trying to work their way up a steep hill covered in slush make the big mistake of stopping half way up.  I saw drivers driving at full speed and then wondering why they are fishtailing (yet not slowing down).

In about a half hour I head out again to pick Sophie up from school.  Then we are staying inside for the rest of the day.  Best to play it safe and pray for the snow to stop falling.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One Year

One year ago today we arrived in Bulgaria to begin ReachGlobal's new ministry in Sofia.  It is hard to believe that it has only been a year.  So much has happened that it is hard to keep track.

It has been a great year.  God has truly blessed us as we started this ministry, but if you want to look back we have a years worth of blogs you can read.  I want to take this time to look forward.

There is much we want to in Bulgaria in the next years and we really don't want to do it alone.  Please pray that God would raise up teammates for us and continue to build effective partnerships.  Year one was only the beginning!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Permanent Residency!

It is official!  My permanent residency card has been printed, and I picked it up today.  I now have permission to live and work in Bulgaria indefinitely.  I still have to file change of address forms every time I move, and I need to fill out some paperwork every time my passport expires, but essentially, I’m good to go for the foreseeable future.

I now have all the rights and privileges of any Bulgarian (with the obvious exceptions of rights specifically reserved for citizens such as voting and running for public office).  It is good to be fully welcomed!


Thanks to all of you who, through your prayers and financial contributions, made this day possible.  We are going to go celebrate!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Getting Better

It looks like our girls are on the mend.  They still have quite a bad cough, but the fevers were gone today.  Sasha pointed out that she knows they are getting better because they were fighting.  Hopefully all will be well soon, though we have already decided to keep Sophie out of school for at least the rest of the week.  The virus that started this is nasty in and of itself.  We don't want to spread it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pneumonia

Our two oldest girls have been diagnosed with pneumonia.  This is the most recent in a long line of illnesses that stretches back over the past 6 months.  About 80% of the last half year at least one person in the family has been sick.  This recent bout has been the worst.  All of us have caught this bug, but it only developed into pneumonia in the two big girls.  The doctor recommended hospitalizing the girls, but we declined for now.  However, if they have not made significant progress in their recovery by Wednesday, we will have to take them in.  Please pray that the antibiotics they are now on do the trick.  We want our healthy girls back.