Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Weekend in Bulgaria

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria with Branko, my new boss, and Lauren Libby, the president of TWR, to visit Stoyko Petkov, the director of our local Partner ministry, Studio 865. My primary purpose on the trip was to film an interview with Lauren for some PR materials I'm working on, but it was also eye-opening to see first-hand some of the impact TWR's ministry is having. I found myself doing a lot of listening to and learning from people much wiser than myself, and returned from the trip with so much to process that it's taken me awhile to wrap my head around it all.

Saturday morning, we all went to a memorial ceremony in honor of 15 Evangelical pastors in Bulgaria who, 60 years ago, were falsely accused, arrested, tortured, and sentenced to life in prison under Communist rule. This very public trial was later followed by 9 more arrests and many other individual cases, all part of a well-orchestrated (and well-documented) Soviet scheme to destroy the Evangelical church in Bulgaria. Ultimately, it failed. Many pastors died in prison, but some still live and preach today. During the ceremony, three of these pastors who had suffered for their faith shared what was on their hearts. They spoke of forgiveness and warned the church to guard against the more subtle enemies that seek our destruction today--particularly complacency and materialism. It was quite an event. Ambassadors from several countries (including the US) as well as the former vice-president of Bulgaria were in attendance. And, out of all these dignitaries and important people, only Trans World Radio received a round of applause when introduced. It was pretty humbling. Everyone was truly grateful for the work TWR was doing even way back then, broadcasting the Gospel through the Iron Curtain to reach and encourage an oppressed church and it's imprisoned pastors. Afterward, we spent more than three hours over lunch talking with pastors from various denominations.

On Sunday, Stoyko drove us three hours north to Lom, a village just across the Danube river from the Romania border. There, we visited a Roma church where Lauren was asked to preach. Surprise! He did a fabulous job, using personal stories to illustrate Jesus' desire to forgive and reconcile people.Later that day, we visited another Roma village with two of the local Roma pastors. Two months earlier, our Partner had given one of these pastors several cassette tapes of TWR programming to give to people. He gave it to a young man, who gave it to his sister, who shared it with her friends...who all came to faith in Jesus and started a small church! When we arrived, we were welcomed by the most joyful woman I've ever met into her tiny, dirty little home, where a small group of Roma women, youth, and children gathered to hear about Jesus. It was such a privilege to be there. The Roma pastor asked me to share how I came to know Jesus, which I did while Stoyko translated. At the end, we asked how we could pray for them, and the woman's only request was "that we know more and more of Jesus." Another Roma girl, no older than sixteen yet already a widowed mother of three, prayed for wisdom in raising her children to know and follow Christ. It was a humbling experience. I, poor by American standards, have more to my name than their entire village. These people have nothing to call their own, yet all they wish for is more of God. They lived in conditions I would never wish on anybody, yet I found myself envious of their situation. They were wholly content, free from distractions, and full of joy. I'm excited to see what God will do through His children among the Roma.

Speaking of the Roma, I spent the last couple weeks wrapping up production on a new Epic Story film about TWR's ministry among the Roma people of Central and Eastern Europe. Hopefully I'll have something to show you before too long. Stay tuned!


the lovely years said...

Great write-up! Very convicting. Our class is doing a study this quarter on materialism.