Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Camp in Bulgaria!

This summer I got to visit Bulgaria to see and cheer on our team down there! I sometimes feel like I have more culture shock visiting some of our southern countries, than I had when I moved to Czech. The culture is just different - a little louder, a little warmer, than I've become used to in Czech. This was true of Bulgaria too - and it was fun to get to know the culture a little better, and to see a little of the beautiful country.

I travelled down on Thursday, a few days before the short term team arrived to help prepare for their arrival. This was our first short term team headed to Bulgaria so it was great to be there to support our staff. It was a little strange to be a country with the Cyrillic alphabet. So many of our countries speak Slavic languages so, even if I don't speak that specific language, there are usually words I recognise. This was not the case in Bulgaria due to the alphabet - although, sometimes when people were talking I caught words or phrases I recognised.

It was great to have a few days of preparation and to be able to get a feel for the town of Velingrad where some of our missionaries are based. I went along with our country leader there, Gabe, as he had a meeting with the town officials who allowed us to use the town stadium for free for camp, and as he stopped by the children's home to say hi.

The team from Northern Ireland, America, and Canada, arrived in on Saturday and we were very thankful that we made the bus for the two hour journey to Velingrad. Some of the team were able to go in our van but with not enough seats I took most of the Northern Irish team on the bus - thankfully I had help getting them on the correct bus as three days is not quite long enough to learn a new alphabet.

With their arrival training began - we spent time over the next couple of days talking about the mission and vision of Josiah Venture and the Bulgaria team, culture, how to build relationships well, how to share the gospel, and all the practical things we needed to cover for a sports' camp! We were also able to go to the local church on Sunday morning.

On Monday afternoon camp began! There were forty-seven students there who were connected to the local church or our missionaries in Velingrad, or connected to other local churches across Bulgaria through various outreach ministries. There were also seven students from the children's home we'd stopped by on Friday. This was a big camp! And it was so fun to see the short term team members, and interns and staff, serving all these students. Our interns in Bulgaria probably get the prize for doing the most camps in the summer - I think this was the sixth camp for most of them!

Our mornings started with the camp dance and some stretching altogether, followed by a short testimony from a team member. Then students were in three groups (girls, older boys, and younger boys) which each went through skill time in three sports. The sports during the week were football, volleyball, Ultimate Frisbee, basketball, and fitness! After each skill time there were more short testimonies from team members.

In the afternoons there was movie or pool time, followed by the main talk for the day. After the talk time there were discussion groups to help students process what they'd been hearing about Jesus and how he sees them. After discussion groups ended, usually around six, there was more sport time - this time we were in our six discussion group teams and we played three games (usually football and Frisbee, plus another from that day). And then there was "shower hour" for everyone to get clean after a full day of lots of sports, followed by some chill time of playing board games or ping pong before bedtime.

This is Cvete, who I got to know during camp! I'm so thankful for how relationships can be built across languages and cultures, and for the time I got to spend with this lovely lady, and others, during camp.

The town's stadium was a great place to host camp - and it's incredible that not only were we able to use it, but that we were able to use it for free. With Bulgaria's strong Orthodox tradition, evangelical Christianity is definitely seen as a cult. Like many of our countries, this is a big challenge especially when young people go home from camp or other outreach events, talking about this Jesus they've just heard about, who may have changed their lives. Unfortunately, this often leads to parents banning their children from attending church and youth group.

I left midway through camp to head home to Czech. It was definitely hard to leave camp and the people I had gotten to know there. But it was such a joy to hear that seven young people gave their lives to Christ that week! Bulgaria doesn't have a lot of youth ministry happening, and churches are small and cannot afford to have youth workers full time. So if anything is happening for young people, it is often led by young students who are often busy or not always around. Also, there aren't always a lot of opportunities for work in Bulgaria so people move away, or work in another European country much of the year. There are definitely a lot of challenges to raising up a new generation of committed disciples in this country, but God is most definitely at work.

As I flew out of Bulgaria early on Thursday morning my heart was full - from connecting with our incredible staff and interns in that country, from getting to speak Northern Irish and meeting the short term team, from getting to know students, and from seeing little glimpses of what God is doing in that country. I'm praying that we'll see Him move in even mightier ways in this place in the years to come.

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