Martin and I arrived in Sofia and spent the evening fellowshipping and encouraging George, a pastor from a Gypsy suburb of Sofia who we have known for a couple of years having taken a team to work with his church in 2009.
Things have been very hard for gypsy churches over recent times with many people from their congregations being forced to work abroad due to the total lack of work available to them in Bulgaria. George is a man of faith and is seeking to teach and be an example of Christian life style to his church and the wider community. He told us of many miraculous ways in which God is looking after his family and enabling them to bless the community they are part of. On a number of occasions recently non Christian Bulgarians have given him food to distribute in the suburb, something almost unheard of in this nation where gypsies often get the blame for many of the nation’s troubles.
During Tuesday we met with another gypsy pastor who had travelled down from Viden in northern Bulgaria on the border with Romania, about a five hour coach journey from Sofia. We sought to encourage him and talked with him about ways in which we might help his people start up small businesses providing employment to help alleviate the migration.
That evening we all ministered in George’s church seeking to encourage them to live by Biblical principles. There were around fifty people present. We concluded the meeting by praying for about fifteen people with various physical problems and most of this group seemed to have received a touch from God. The rest of the evening was spent fellowshipping over a meal in George’s little home huddled around the turtle stove, an old fashioned wood heater.
The next morning we travelled to Plovdiv by car and having settled into our accommodation we met with Sashko and Marusia. Sashko leads three gypsy churches in the region around Plovdiv and he is one of the pastors I met six years ago when I first travelled to Bulgaria. He is a real man of faith and when our mission left him with one of his congregations so overflowing from their small building that people had to stand outside in the snow in the winter to hear the message, he dug the foundations for a new 300 seater building in his garden. He had no money to complete this but at every stage so far God has supplied the finances to take them onto the next stage. He has just cast the second floor in concrete and is ready to install windows on the ground floor. They hope to move in later this year, finances willing.
On Thursday we met with Serbez and his family. Serbez is a converted Moslem. His wife having become a Christian prayed for a number of years for him and he finally gave his life to Christ. He now leads a good sized church in the middle of a Moslem gypsy suburb of Plovdiv. He is a real man of God’s word and is always eager to check out what he has been teaching his people. A couple of years ago I encouraged him to start training leaders in his church that they might share the responsibility for this work and during our time together he proudly introduced us to the group who are his fledgling leadership team. He is now meeting with them on a regular basis, training and encouraging them to step up to all God has for them. This is quite unusual for a gypsy church as there has been a history of jealousy of successful leaders and this has often lead to church splits causing pastors not to delegate anything to anyone for fear of losing people. He has also started a youth group and women’s ministry and has a desire to start planting other churches.
In the evening Martin and I ministered to Serbez’s church and encouraged them to step into all God has called them to. This was received with great enthusiasm. This was followed by a time of testimony and we were all encouraged by the stories of what God had been doing. I was especially encouraged by a testimony from a lady I prayed with two years ago who had been barren for eight years and now stood before the church with her daughter who was just over a year old. Praise God, He’s still performing miracles! The evening finished with us dedicating two new babies to the Lord. This had originally been planned for Christmas but was brought forward because of our visit. What a wonderful privilege.
On Friday we had lunch with Milena the wife of the English man who first invited us to Bulgaria. It was great to catch up on all that God was doing. Sadly, we missed Craig her husband as he is working back in England at the moment.
In the evening we had been invited to attend a meeting at a Bulgarian church which was hosting an American. As it turned out we knew each other from way back in the seventies when he came to our church leading a worship team called Living Sound! It was great to meet up again after all these years.
The pastor and his wife who had invited us to the meeting are a Bulgarian couple who are interested in sending young people from their church to work with us on missions within the country. This is a great opportunity to expand what we are doing in Bulgaria and we agreed to meet again before we left the country.
On Saturday we had lunch with Danny and his wife Naska who lead the other church we visited the first time I went to Bulgaria with the tent. It was in their village that we first saw miracles in the tent and large numbers of people getting saved although Danny had not met Naska at that time. It was great to spend time with this young couple and hear of all God is doing with them. As a church they have bought a plot of land and are saving all they can to build a church building in 2012 as at the moment they meet in a converted shipping container. The metal walls run with condensation throughout their worship times and the unit is freezing cold as we were to find out that evening. Danny has a regular job (quite unusual for a gypsy) working for the supermarket chain Kalfland at minimum wage and Naska has a vision to start a clothes shop come Internet cafe.
She already has a market stall selling clothes to supplement their income. Last time I was with them in August she told me she wanted to start selling school clothes but did not have the money to buy the stock. I felt lead to lend her the £150 she needed to buy the stock and on my return this time she greeted me by returning the money she had been lent and telling me she had more than doubled it in the three months since I lent it to her. What a faithful worker she is.
It is my hope that we will be able to support this young couple in both their endeavours to build a church building and expand their business so it supports their ministry. At the moment when they are not working to earn a living they are busy seeking to build the Kingdom which is very demanding upon their young family.
We have already agreed to take the tent and a team to the village in June 2012 to support the opening of their new church building with a mission in the village.
On Sunday morning we ministered in a small Bulgarian church in Asenovgrad, a large town a few miles from Plovdiv. I was invited to this church last time i was in Bulgaria and immediately felt a link in the Spirit. Most non orthodox churches in Bulgaria are considered to be sects and as such attract some persecution which manifests in various ways and they are generally treated with some suspicion.
This church meet in a converted shop and have a lively style of worship. the pastor, his wife and two boys are very keen to see God move powerfully in their community. They support themselves through a couple of businesses; one exports spices and the other is a hot drinks vending machine business. These are placed around the town in the open air. The eldest son told me his dad had given him one machine to run as his own business and he has decided that he would tithe on gross turnover. That machine was now outselling all of his father’s machines and was making the most profit. What a wonderful example he is to Christians everywhere. We had a great time with both the church and the pastor and his family who we are quickly building a great friendship with.
Sunday evening saw us with Segun’s church in Stilpinova where there were recently riots between gypsies and Bulgarians. Things had flared up after a relative of the king of the gypsies knocked over and killed a young Bulgarian in his car. We saw a couple of buildings that had been burned down during the riots and the stories and counter stories of what had happened were to be heard everywhere. Suffice to say that there is a great need in this area with tensions only just below the surface at any given time.
We carried out a very successful mission in this Moslem area about fours years ago out of which Segun’s church was planted and we have been supporting them ever since. Segun is a Nigerian who is married to Yoanna, a Bulgarian, and they have three lovely children all under five. Segun used to be a professional footballer until he had to retire after damaging his knee. The church is growing both numerically and spiritually and it is a great pleasure to spend time with them. They are really hungry for the things of God and to be a blessing to their community.
Segun also runs three football teams which have proved to be a great way of reaching out to the young men of the area and he has become a surrogate father to many of the young boys. The work has been so successful in changing the attitude of these young people it has attracted the attention of both the local and national press. When he first started the football teams no one thought that gypsies could play successful football due to their lack of discipline but how they have proved them wrong! Not only do they play great football but Segun has also got many of the boys back into the school system. Sadly due to the high unemployment in the area the cost of playing in the youth league has proved too great at this time for the church to continue to support and the teams currently only play friendly matches. The church also desperately needs to move to a larger building but again this is a faith venture as their offerings barely cover the rent of the building they meet in now. Please pray for them.
On Monday we were back with Segun teaching his leaders most of whom sat taking notes enthusiastically as I shared on being filled and lead by the Holy Spirit , again quite unusual as many gypsies don’t read or write having left school due to persecution. The evening ended with a great anointing service with almost everyone being ministered to for a filling or refilling of the Holy Spirit.
On Tuesday we again met with the Bulgarian pastor and his wife who want us to take young people from their church on missions with us. This was a great time of fellowship and our interpreter who initially introduced us to the couple, as they are her pastors, was greatly surprised when they invited me to come back and speak to their church on evangelism. This is something God had recently put a great burden on them that they should be doing but not really knowing where to start. Her surprise was born out of the fact that she knew this couple to be very courteous people who needed to build relationship before opening the church to anyone. So in February we return to Plovdiv with yet another door open to us.
Please pray for all those I have mentioned in this short report and for us as we continue to preach the Gospel and build His church wherever He opens the doors.
By Tim Grant