Friday, October 25, 2013

Annual Retreat

I'm going to spend much of this weekend on my own.  It is my annual retreat.  I'll be in a town about 45 minutes outside of Sofia reflecting on what God has done in and through me in the last year, and seeking His guidance for the coming year.

This is a spiritual exercise, but it is also an important part of my job.  As a ministry worker, I can do nothing apart from God.  It is important to spend time in prayer and reflection to make sure I'm living in obedience to Him and following His Spirit, not merely my own plans.

Please keep me in your prayers this weekend.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Reflections on My Homes

I’m a single dad for the next 24 hours.  This morning Sasha and Alexis took the train to do some paperwork in the city of Kostenets (where her family lives).  I’m taking care of the older two girls tonight.  We will drive out to Kostenets tomorrow.

The girls are in school now, so I had the morning to get some legwork done.  I went downtown to the local Christian bookstore to look for some discipleship materials for some young men who want to learn more about their faith.  Afterward I stopped by my old language school.  The secretary at the school is a friend of ours.  I thought I would see how she is doing.  It was fortunate I stopped by.

As I popped into the office I saw a somewhat frustrated maintenance lady.  She helps out around the office keeping the place tidy and organized, but she is not the secretary and does not speak English.  She informed me that there was a man in one of the classrooms and she had no idea why he was there.  The secretary (our friend) was out sick, and the director had not come in yet.  She asked me to translate to find out what he needed.

The man was an Egyptian who wanted to learn Bulgarian.  He had come to pay his bill for the class that starts next week.  I informed him that he could wait for the director, but we were not sure when he would come.  The Egyptian man decided to come back later.

As we walked out together I told him what a good school it was.  He asked how long it took for me to learn Bulgarian.  I told him I was comfortable speaking after about a year, but I have improved quite a bit in the three years I have lived here.  I also told him I have a cheat in that I have Bulgarian family.  He told me he also has a Bulgarian wife.  He moved here with her from Egypt because of the conflict in his home country.  I told him I have been praying for Egypt.  He seemed to appreciate that.

As I headed toward the subway to go home, I thought about those first few months in Sofia almost three years ago.  Back then everything was new and unknown.  How things have changed.  I really feel at home here.  We are going back to the U.S. next year.  I am looking forward to it, but honestly the U.S. seems a bit foreign to me now.  I’ve spent most of the last decade outside of America.  Pop culture references that I hear from time to time don’t always make sense, and the U.S. news reports I read and hear sometimes make America sound like a very different country than the one I left.  Bulgaria has changed dramatically in the past three years.  I can only imagine America has too.  What will it look like to me next year?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Running the Race

On Sunday I ran the Sofia Half Marathon.  Don’t worry; this is not a boasting blog about how amazing I am for running a race that hundreds of thousands of people run every year.  I came in 288th out of 292, so I don’t exactly have a lot to boast about anyway.  There is a point to this blog post, but boasting is not it.

The half marathon course is essentially a large loop that we ran three times, so I got to see the same sites over and over again.  The first loop was exciting.  We started out at a fairly good pace.  We were full of energy from the healthy breakfasts we had eaten earlier that morning.  Things were looking good.  We cheered each other on and there were smiles on many faces.  The worst experience that first lap was when one of the guys running a water station blocked me from getting a drink.  (Not cool dude.)

The second lap was a bit harder.  The smiles faded, and gaps between runners increased.  I kept thinking to myself, the next time I pass this point will be my last time.  For some reason, that did not help much.

The final lap was the worst.  I was tired, but still had a long way to go.  I started to get discouraged.  Then off to the side I heard two voices yelling, “Dave Bliss from Minnesota!  Go!  Go!”  It was a couple of my American friends who came out to cheer on the runners.  Keep in mind, there were not a lot of fans watching us Sunday morning.  For most of the race, the only spectators I saw were the police who were keeping cars off the course.  To get encouragement like this during the final few kilometers was just what I needed to keep going.

I climbed the hill on the course for the final time, and rounded the half-way point of the loop, but I was losing steam.  My run had turned into a shuffle.  My body was running low on energy.  Every step felt like I was lifting a lead weight.  As I approached the stadium I saw my family and the family of my running partner cheering me on.  I gave them high fives, and I pushed on to the end.  I had run the course laid out for me.

After Sunday, I will never underestimate the importance of having people there to help you along.  Be it my running partner, my family and friends who cheered me on, or the woman who handed me a cup of Gatorade as I started the final lap, I could not have made it without them.

Like the course I ran, serving in ministry in a land I did not grow up in can be tiring.  Often times it can feel like we are running alone.  Sometimes those who are supposed to help callously hinder us (like the race volunteer who would not let me get a drink), but such people are a rarity and quickly get left behind.  It is the sense of being alone that makes this race the hardest.

But then just when I begin to wonder if it is worth it, and if I should go on, I get support from the sidelines.  Like the note I got from an elder at my sending church last month letting me know that he gets and reads my newsletters every time I send them and is praying for us; or the friend who sent us a gift last month because she believes in our work here.  Such people keep us going.

The race I ran on Sunday was nothing compared to the race Christians run every day.  Sometimes we stumble and fall.  Sometimes we are week and tired.  Sometimes we feel alone (though we never are).  We press on by the grace of God.  By His strength we will finish the race.