Monday, July 20, 2015


This year more than ever, we have been able to see the "fruits of our labor".  Several of the our "first children" have grown up to be working adults in the real world or students at local universities.  They are married; they have families.  They have their own apartments.  They have overcome the challenges of living in a world that at many times turned against them.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to have dinner with three of the boys that were some of the hardest workers on Wayne and David's construction crew over the years.  Benny is one of 150 that have been accepted to a military university.  He will start classes in August and will commit about 10 years of service to the Bulgarian National Military.  He is very excited about this opportunity! He is currently living in Sofia in a group home similar to the one in Lom but for older children.  Bobby is also living in the group home in Sofia and is working for Pepsi Co.  He loves his job!  He takes orders from companies and delivers the product.  Both of these boys have been living in Sofia for about a month.  Although they live rent free, they are responsible for purchasing and cooking their own meals.  They are given 1 leva (a little less than a dollar) in allowance a day and can earn extra money by doing various chores.  The boys told us that it has been a hard adjustment but they seem to be doing well in Sofia.  

Naiden was placed in the orphanage as a baby, and has been there ever since.  He and Nicky bonded our very first year through his gardening.  They worked together to weed the garden and plant various vegetables.  Naiden aged out of the orphanage two years ago and is also living in Sofia.  He is living on his own and has a full time job working for a technology company in the purchasing and delivery department.  Kris doesn't hear from him as much but he seemed to be doing well last night.  

It's truly amazing to see the growth and development of these kids over the past 8 years.  While you can see physical changes in pictures, it's hard to describe the social, emotional, and mental growth that we have seen.  They have overcome the back and forth of foster care, broken relationships, and poor living conditions.  And this year, unlike many others there were fewer tears.  They know and understand that we are committed to our relationship with them and that we will continue to support them, love them, talk to them, and pray for them.  We aren't another relationship that is going to turn against them.  

Overall, we had a great week!  I think Wayne would be proud of our resiliency to go back to Bulgaria this year without him (and somehow we survived without any catastrophes) and I know he would be proud of the resiliency that has grown in these kids, especially his construction crew.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Day 6: Nikolinka

By: Anna Marie Wright

Today the men continued to work on painting and landscaping projects at the orphanage. The ladies enjoyed playing games in the morning and doing crafts with the children in the afternoon. My favorite part of the day was a very special afternoon visitor.

We fist met Nikolinka in our second visit to Bulgaria in 2008. She was about fourteen years old and had just arrived to the orphanage with her three sisters. Susan and Nikolinka developed a special bond, and by the end of the week, several of the girls were calling her “Mama.” Nikolinka always wore a smile, and seemed happiest when she had a hand to hold. Susan kept in touch with the girls via Facebook, and we looked forward to seeing them the following year. 
Months later, I was discouraged when Susan told me that the four sisters left the orphanage after Nikolinka’s sister Lily became pregnant. Around the same time, Nikolinka met and married a much older dairy farmer who lived in a town near Lom. Naturally, we all worried about the girls’ futures.

Over the years, we’ve lost touch with three of the four sisters. This year however, we had the pleasure of meeting Nikolinka’s sweet family. We were all so impressed with Nikolinka’s husband. He took time away from his farm to drive the family to Lom—not once, but twice this week. He even speaks English! Their daughter Victoria has her mother’s infectious smile and sweet spirit. She was so happy held by her American “Baba” (the Bulgarian word for Grandma). We never saw Victoria fuss or cry. Her father told us that the secret to her happy temperament is a blessing with holy water every three days.

When Nikolinka and her family left this afternoon, I couldn’t help but recognize this meeting as an answered prayer. You might even call Nikolinka one of the “lucky" ones. So many of the girls from the orphanage become young single mothers who will struggle throughout their lives to find financial and emotional security. Growing up in orphanage, these children are desperate to find someone to love them unconditionally. However, the loving partnership between Nikolinka and her husband is evident. My heart was filled with admiration and joy to see their love for the Lord and each other. Please continue to pray for Nikolinka’s family and all of the children of Lom. Pray that they come to know abundance of God’s love for them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Day 5: The Spirit of Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas 

By: Dylan Wilbanks

The mission to Bulgaria has always been in many ways its own reward.  In our work here, the group, and you through our pictures and stories, are able to see very directly the great impact our contributions can make.  We come, we take direction on projects that need to be completed so the children can be more comfortable or have a more enjoyable life, and we’ve done our best to complete them.  We spend time with the children, hug them, listen to them, play with them, and we can see that we’re making them happy.  If that were all, it would still be good, worthy work.  It would still be a cause that is easy to support because the need is great and the impact is immediate and visible. 

But tonight, I believe we have enjoyed the sweetest fruit of the efforts of the Bulgaria mission—specifically the decision to keep returning to Lom and its children and to foster relationships with them.  Today’s entry is about a young man who makes us very proud.

Zoiko is someone the group met the very first year.  Our Bulgaria mission is not the first to come to Lom.  When he was younger, the orphanage had received assistance from another mission group within Europe.  Through no fault of the children, the relationship soured, and the bitter feelings left Zoiko and others initially skeptical of our group.  Probably justifiably so. 

The first year, our group did not manage to make much of a connection with Zoiko.  That was in 2007. The Bulgaria mission could have easily remained a one-year mission, with the attendees cherishing their memories of work well done, but never returning.  Or the members could have looked for a different mission.  Instead, they decided to remain dedicated to the children of Lom and to foster relationships that they had started to form.  At this point, they certainly did not realize that they had started to form an important relationship with Zoiko.  Over the following six consecutive years that our group returned, Zoiko became a great ally, organizer, translator, and friend to the people who attended.  He was the one who would make the other children stop smoking for the week because he knew we didn’t approve.  As someone who didn’t attend, his name is one that I heard repeatedly and recognized.  Coming here, I was eager to meet the Amazing Zoiko.  (I think that’s his stage name.  He’s trained himself to be a magician—he’s been on Bulgaria’s Got Talent, which I do not think has been his only televised appearance.)

This year, I finally got to meet him.  At twenty years old, he’s no longer a resident of the orphanage, but he took the week off of work to come help us and spend time with us.  Tonight, he hosted us in his home for dessert.  He lives in an apartment in Lom, and he baked a traditional Bulgarian pastry for us, which was delicious.  Zoiko’s apartment was filled with photos from our missions, crafts he had made with members of the group in the past, and cards he had received from us.  He also had many photos of the other children he grew up with in the orphanage.

We were all so proud to see Zoiko doing well, and we made sure he knew.  He told us that after the first year and over the following years, his feelings toward our group changed.  We helped him understand that there were things in life to work for, and that he could improve himself by working hard, and he started doing just that.  He began taking jobs so that he could earn his own money to have his own things.  He also earned so that he could give back.  He told us he feels like our visits helped him come to this realization. 

This past Christmas, Zoiko hosted the children of the orphanage at his apartment.  Twenty-five of them, for forty-eight hours.  His apartment is perfectly sized for one twenty-year-old, but it is difficult to imagine where they all stood, let alone slept.  Zoiko told us that they stayed with him on the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth.  During that time, Zoiko was working in Lom as Santa Claus (one of what I assume must be many side-gigs).  When he came home, the children were celebrating so much and making so much noise that they could not hear him ring the doorbell and he couldn’t get in.  Dressed as Santa Claus, he had to go outside and climb in the window.  Thanks to Zoiko, the children of the orphanage had family to visit on Christmas. 

My hope is that our mission inspired Zoiko through the years, and that by keeping faith with the children we’ve served as a good example for him.  I also don’t want to take too much credit:  Zoiko has worked very hard on his own and he has a big heart.  I think we’re probably lucky to be part of his story.  I hope that our relationship with Zoiko continues for many years to come because he definitely serves as a good example for us. 

There are also other children from the orphanage who have gone out into the world and are doing well:  Nyden, who works and lives in Sofia, whom we hope to see later this week; Radi, who lives and works in Lom and has come to visit us several times this week; Kiki, whose smiling face greets us at the hardware store where she works. 

Seeing our alumni, knowing that they want to see us, and knowing that they’re entering the world doing well is an important reminder that the relationships we’re forming with the children in the orphanage and the group home are the Bulgaria mission.  It makes me look forward to seeing where the kids we’re working with now might go. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Day 4: Change

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-         Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today was day 4 in Bulgaria; day 3 in Lom. David Applegate, David Sanders, Dylan, Eric, and myself traveled to the group home this morning to start painting the children’s rooms. Yesterday we prepped the walls by cleaning off mildew and mold with a bleach mixture. Paint is often the easiest way to gain the most instant gratification and today was no different; the new coats of paint brightened each room and made a big difference. As a group, we can probably only take credit for painting 2 out of the 4 rooms we were working on. After lunch, a group of 4-5 of the older boys at the orphanage showed up to help and eagerly grabbed every brush and paint roller we had.
The enthusiasm and effort shown by the guys was refreshing to see, and not only because they afforded us a work break. Time and time again the kids at both the group home and orphanage show a willingness to learn new things, whether it be new work skills, new English words, or a new sense of wanting to help and serve others. The guys did get a little paint on the ceiling and floor, but they immediately grabbed a towel and got down on their hands and knees to clean up without being asked. Gloria, a young girl at the group home, is constantly trying to learn English words while also showing a determination to teach us Bulgarian (Gloria is definitely a quicker learner than we are).
Perhaps the clearest case of one of the kids working to change and grow is Zoiko. Zoiko is by now famous to all who our familiar with our trips for his outgoing personality and magic shows. However, Zoiko wasn’t always so happy to see us. The first year FBC came to Lom, Zoiko was difficult to work with and generally a terror to the mission team. Zoiko is by now an honorary member of our group, leading the activities with the kids and helping to get everyone to pay attention and listen. He even took off from his job all week to assist with our work at the orphanage. Unbeknownst to us, he provided water bottles and ice cream to everyone’s rooms at the hotel. We would have never known he did this if Kris had not told us. Zoiko is now living on his own outside of the orphanage and has invited us to his apartment one night this week.

Nearly every kid we have come into contact with over the past 8 years has shown the same willingness to learn and grow despite the clear disadvantages they have been dealt by life. Anything we could possibly provide to the kids ourselves pales in comparison to the blessings they have given us by allowing us to witness the growth they go through year after year. This gives us hope that our work has made a lasting impact on the lives of some of the kids we have come to know and love, but I know without a doubt that they have made a lasting impact on us.

By: Joe Sanders

Day 3: Love

Today, as we sat in church and listened to the sweet congregation sing, I was reminded that God's love speaks all languages.  It has no boundaries--no borders.  It doesn't need a translator.  Please continue to pray for us as we show God's love to these children through hugs, listening, games, crafts, and laughs.  

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 

How great thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:

How great thou art! 

How great thou art! 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Day 2: Lom

Today we left Sofia around 10am and headed to Lom...making it there safely with David at the wheel!    We only got honked at once....

After checking into our hotel and eating lunch, we drove to the Group Home.  The Group Home is home to nine children who had previously lived in the orphanage.  These children were selected to live in the group home as a "state experience" a few years ago--testing out the idea of a foster home.  They have three caretakers and live in a much cleaner, more up-to-date home.  The kids greeted us with hugs, flowers, and gifts.  Katia, the group home leader, updated us on the children who currently live there and on some of the kids who have moved out.  Everyone is doing really well!

Welcoming us back!

Katia, the director of the Group Home and Kris Angelov

After spending time there, we drove to the orphanage where we were met by several old and new faces! We spent the afternoon meeting new friends, re-connecting with the children who have been there in the past and coming up with projects for the week.

Tomorrow we are going to church down the street and then to the orphanage around 2:00 to play games and do crafts with the kids.  We are looking forward to a great week together in Lom!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Safe Travels!

Our group, plus our 20 bags, made it safely to Sofia, Bulgaria today around 6:30am US time.  After a long day of traveling we were exhausted to say the least but thankful we all made it to Bulgaria for another year.  Tonight we went to one of our favorite Sofia restaurants to introduce our new mission team members, Dylan and Allison, to the local cuisine...and to some local dancing!  Even the birthday girls..Beth and Katherine got in on the action!

Beth stole the show! 

Fire dancing

Katherine testing out the fire dancing
Tomorrow we are loading up the vans and all the bags around 10am to head to Lom to our hotel and to see the kids for the first time this year!  Pray for us as David drives one of the vans....Bulgarians aren't known for their hospitality on the roads...or their ability to follow driving rules!