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


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.


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


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.