Saturday, July 24, 2010

A series of unfortunate events...

Where do I even begin....

Yesterday was our last day in Lom. What we thought was going to a short day of sad goodbyes and traveling turned into a VERY eventful day...

Friday morning we woke up to find that Nicky had been taken to the hospital. She wasn't feeling well, and needed some medication immediately. So, the rest of us stayed behind and tried to gather our belongings and supplies for the day. David, David, and Carlton loaded up our supplies while Beth, Aimie, and Katherine rode in the van to stand guard at the orphange after the supplies were dropped off. The men then turned around after taking one load of supplies and came back to the hotel to pick up the puppet theater and purchase watermelons for the kids. After ALL our trips back and forth from the hotel to the orphanage, we finally made it in one piece to "celebrate" our last day in Lom.

When we arrived we were greeted by Zoiko! He had been in the hospital in Sofia this week recuperating from his arm surgery. We were excited to see another familiar face! After cutting up watermelon we put on a puppet show! It was hilarious. Imagine Susan, Katherine, Karen, and I all squating behind the small theater making random animal noises to "Old McDonald". We also sang a few other songs. The kids enjoyed it! We finished the day with our group photo, balloons, t-shirts, visors, and pictures. We said our goodbyes and ran back to the hotel that had insisted that some of us checkout by noon....another fun event.

Back at the hotel we loaded up the vans and headed for Lovetch. We made it all to Lovetch in one piece with Tedi, Kris, and WAYNE driving :) After unloading our bags, Joe decided that it would be best to see another doctor about the infection on his tonsils. After driving 2 hours to Lovetch, David, Jennifer, Joe, Nicky, and Kris got back in the van and drove to the hospital. While they were gone, the rest of the crew wandered around town exploring the shops. When they returned the doctor decided that it would be best if Joe went to the hospital in Sofia. So, the Sanders reloaded their luggage into the van and we drove 2 hours to Sofia.

After arriving around 9:00 they took Joe in while Katheirne and I served as "guards" in the van... Around midnight, Joe was given a room and he and David spent the night in the hospital. Kris took Jennifer, Katherine, and I to a hotel, brought us McDonalds, and went to get medicine for Joe. Then Kris spent the night on a BENCH at the hospital! He went above and beyond for us!!!! I don't know what we would have done without him there!
Joe was released from the hospital this morning around 6:00 and he and David came back to the hotel. Kris drove BACK to Lovetch to switch out vans and check on the rest of the group. They are working at the other orphanage and will return to Sofia this evening. Kris's father is taking Joe back to the hospital tonight for another IV.

Joe is currently feeling a little better. Nicky decided to rest at the hotel in Lovetch today rather than travel to the other orphanage. Tedi's extended family has offered to help them work on the summer house at the orphanage.

Needless to say, this has been quite an eventful week. We have been faced with many obstacles, but in the meantime we have made significant progress at the orphanage. It's been an exhausting week and we are all ready to return home, but we will miss the kids as always!

We appreciate all the prayers for our group, the kids, and Kris and Tedi. We hope to all return home tomorrow in one piece!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sorry for the delay in the blog! It has been a really busy week, and at the end of the day we are exhausted...but our work doesn't stop then! After dinner, we have to come back and re-pack and plan for the next day so blogging comes last. Here are a few updates from yesterday and today....

Yesterday we stayed busy at the orphanage. We were brave (or crazy) and brought paint. Try to imagine 40 children (who don't speak English) with paint brushes and cups of paint. Needless to say, it was not easy trying to keep them on their own paper, keep them from painting us, or keep them from painting each other. Only one child ended up with paint in their eyes, thank goodness. Overall, the children had a good afternoon! We ended the day with an intense soccer game with Carlton as one of the goalies and Kris playing barefoot. Even though most of the players (the Americans) had never played soccer, they weren't too bad! The children enjoyed laughing at them!

If you aren't familiar with Silly Bandz, you might be living under a rock... Well, we have now introduced them to 40 Bulgarian children and they love them! For the past two days, we have played games where the children are able to win Silly Bandz. These games have been the highlight of the day! We threw balls into a bucket for over an hour. Every person who rung the bucket, won a Silly Band.....even the workers wanted to play! Thanks to all who bought us Silly Bandz!

We have had a great week! The children have enjoyed the bells, crafts, and games. Karen even gave a few haircuts!

The men have worked hard painting, digging, and building. Two of the boys stayed up till 4:00 am painting one of their rooms! We are putting the finishing touches on the puppet theater tonight and will take it to the orphanage tomorrow. It turned out really nice!

This year, 7 of the children from the orphanage have been moved into a type of foster home. This project has been sponsored by the European Union. These children live in a house with approximately 6 staff members, with one staff member present at all times. They are responsible for several chores, such as cleaning their rooms and cleaning up after dinner. They also participate in classes to teach them life skills. They have been on many educational trips around the country and they receive services from a psychologist, social worker, and counselor. Yesterday, we had the privilege of visiting their home. They were so excited to see us! They made us cards, prepared a snack for us, and showed us around their house! These children are very excited to be living here. The workers are extremely nice and welcoming. They have been visiting with us at the orphanage this week and some of them speak English. Please pray for these children and their situation. They have been chosen for this home because they have "tested well". These children will most likely be adopted before the other children. Several of them have foster parents that they visit on the weekends as well. For example, today one of the girls was visiting her "foster Grandmother" who took her shopping for new clothes. We were apprehensive about this situation in the beginning, but we feel really good about what we have seen! Unfortunately, this project has been turned over to the government of Bulgaria and no longer receives funds from the EU. This is a recent obstacle for them, and it is uncertain on how they will continue to fund the project.

Tomorrow we are having a party for the kids. We will be giving them t-shirts and pictures and serving watermelons! We have blown up lots and lots of balloons as well! Around lunchtime, we will be leaving for Lovetch. We will be in Lovetch Friday and Saturday, then travel to Sofia Saturday night. Please pray for us tomorrow. It's always sad to leave, but we hope that this week has been beneficial for all the children. We are currently working on arranging English classes through our translator for some of the older children. She teaches English in one of the local high schools, and has volunteered to teach once a week. We hope that this investment will be a long-term investment that will be valuable to the children in their future. Our relationship with her is important and we are excited for this new opportunity! We will finalize these plans before we leave Lom.

Sickness update...
Joe finally decided to visit the doctor and they ran a few tests and took some blood. The doctor decided that it could be an infection related to a spider bite that he got before we left the States. They gave him some medicine and he is feeling a little better.

Hopefully you aren't too confused now! It's almost 11:00 and we are still working on tomorrow's plans! I apologize for rambling...

Hopefully we will have another update tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What a week.... oh wait! We've only been working two days!

It seems as if we have been here for days...maybe even weeks...but we are enjoying EVERY minute of it! The kids can be a handful at times...grabbing paint buckets, nail polish remover, scissors, and even glasses...but they are such a joy! We have had so much fun building relationships with them and laughing with them! It's amazing how much you can accomplish without even knowing Bulgarian! Just don't go to the hardware store with Wayne and David... that's another story.

Speaking of the men... We should give them some credit for the hard work they have done all week. David Applegate, Carlton, Joe, David, Wayne, (and some younger helpers)have done an AMAZING job after only 2 days! For the past two days, they have painted all the outside fences, the playground, and a bedroom. It was a much needed face-lift! Everyone was eager to help--even the young girls! By the end of the day, we all had green paint on us somewhere! Tomorrow, they are going to be painting another bedroom, building a wardrobe for the girls, and building a puppet theater. I'll be sure to post pictures of the completed projects! We are so glad that Wayne was able to find his passport and come on the trip :)

We have been extremely busy these past days with crafts and games! These children are constantly on-the-go and demand lots of attention and energy! Just today we ate tons of oranges, played handbells, danced, colored, made airplanes, made necklaces and bracelets, played cards, tag, did the limbo... plus much much more!

One "project" that we are focusing on this week is building a relationship with the older girls. For the past three years, Susan has developed a strong bond with them. They adore her and anticipate her arrival each year. However, we are concerned with how they deal with their feelings of anger, acceptance, and sadness. In an effort to understand them better, we are beginning to have round table discussions. Today, it started as a discussion about good character traits, friends, trust, respect, and role models. Often these girls try to gain attention from older men as a way to feel loved and wanted. It's a really sad situation. We hope that by talking to them and gaining their trust, we can show them how to respect themselves and how to make good decisions. Please pray for these girls! They are in desperate need for parental guidance, and they just don't have any at all. They were very interested to talk to us today, and we hope that their willingness to be open and honest will continue.

Overall, the group is doing well! We are having a great time together and are enjoying the company of new and old friends from the UK! It seems as if we have known them forever!

Bulgarian language tip of the day.... don't say "super duper"... you can ask Susan about it :)

Please continue to keep us in your prayers! One prayer request... Joe has not been feeling well since Friday. He's been a trooper though! Wayne has definitely kept all the men busy! Please pray that he will feel better soon!

Love you all!

More pictures from days 1 and 2

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What a day! God is good!

This morning we truly witnessed what it means to be part of the family of God! It's an inspiring and touching moment to listen to people that speak two different languages sing the same hymns together. As I sat for the fourth year in the Baptist Church of Lom and sang "How Great Thou Art" and "Amazing Grace", it struck me that this may be what heaven is like. We are all one family of God, bound by His love, and connected through His grace. It doesn't matter where we are, who we are, or what language we speak; we share one common thread. So next time you are sitting in church on a Sunday morning, remember the Church of Lom. They just may be singing the same praises to God!

Bulgarian word of the day: Slava na Boga...Praise the Lord!

Carlton preaching with Kris translating

The whole group at church

After lunch, we ventured to the orphanage to see the children! It was wonderful to be back and see how they have grown and changed! There were also new faces! To celebrate our arrival, they prepared poems, a skit, and a dance for us! You could tell that they had worked so hard! They also served refreshments afterwards. It was a special treat!

We're back!

The skit and dance

The rest of the afternoon, we hung out with the children. There were approximately 32 children present that ranged in age from 6-18. They were very excited to see everyone and wanted to tell us EVERYTHING...even if we had no idea what they were talking about! We have shared many laughs, hugs, kisses, and piggy-back rides! Tonight we will be preparing our crafts and games for the rest of the week. It should be a busy week, but well-worth it! It only took Katherine one afternoon to realize why she is here and why is it so important to these children and to our group to come back year after year! She has already fallen in love!

Another very important Bulgarian word...Az ne razbiram... I don't understand :)

Wayne with Zoran and Alex

Please continue to keep us and the children in your prayers. They all seem to be doing well!

Another praise! We have been blessed with a translator from one of the local schools, Stephy. She also attends the Baptist church. She has worked with the children before and we hope that her relationship with them will help us develop a stronger connection to the children. Every year, we try to maintain contact with the children, and having another English-speaking Bulgarian from Lom would be helpful! We hope that she can talk to the children about how important it is to go to school and practice their English. Please keep her in your prayers this week! Translating for 32 children is not an easy task!

To see more pictures, use the following link. You may have to copy and paste it into the address bar.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The journey that never seemed to end...

I don't know how we did it, but we FINALLY arrived in Lom! Unfortunately, it took us about 4 hours longer to get here.

After everyone landed safely in Sofia around 4:00 PM, we loaded up 22 bags and 15 people for the simple 3 hour trip to Lom where we would be staying all week. Kris led the pack in one (air-conditioned) van, Wayne followed behind in another van, and Tedi kept us all together in the back . After filling up with gas, we headed out! We hadn't been on the road 10 minutes before Kris realized that Wayne was missing! After a phone call, it was discovered that he had broken down on the side of the road with approximately 20 bags of luggage and six Americans. Apparently, there had been a mix up at the gas station and someone used the wrong gas in the van....

So here we are stuck on the side of the road in Sofia. It's about 90ish degrees and we are all EXHAUSTED. Thankfully, we weren't stuck there long before Kris and Tedi found someone who graciously came and rescued us with a truck and a rope.

While we waited to hear the fate of the van, the majority of us decided to unload the bags and re-load them up in the working van and take off to Lom leaving Wayne, David, and Kris behind to deal with the damage.

After emptying the gas tank, cleaning the filter, and refilling the gas tank, the van was ready to go! Meanwhile, Emaile (from the UK) is driving a van full of luggage and 10 people to Lom. This was not an easy task.... Bulgarians don't always follow the rules of the road and when you are used to driving on the opposite side of the street, this can be quite challenging. After turning around several times, we actually met up with the guys and the caravan continued our long journey to Lom.

We finally arrived around 10:30 PM and thankfully, we all made it here in one piece! I don't know how we did it, but praise the Lord we are here!!

Please keep us in your prayers... this looks like a challenging week ahead! Hopefully our luck can only get better from here!

ps...we actually have air conditioning!!

We made it to Prague!

When traveling with First Baptist Church, one should always be cautious and anticipate for something to go wrong. As a young GA (Girls in Action) going to Camp Pinnacle, it was destined for a church van to break down on the way to Clayton, GA. If not one van—two. As a youth member, we were never surprised when the van keys would get “misplaced” leaving us stranded until someone came to our rescue. Last year on our way to Bulgaria, our minister Carlton wasn’t even allowed past check-in due to a “soon to expire” passport.

Today, was like any other day travel day with FBC.

The morning started out smoothly. We all arrived at FBC around 11:30 with bags in hand. After prayer and good-byes we raced (thanks to Wayne) to the airport. Traffic was surprisingly steady and we arrived sooner than anticipated. We parked and loaded our MANY bags onto the Park and Ride and headed to Hartsfield. When we arrived, the Sanders and Susan proceeded to check-in outside. Susan passed with flying colors! The Sanders…not so much. They couldn’t deal with us inside so we received VIP treatment inside. After Mom (Jennifer) frantically thought we lost a bag, and a bag attendant misplaced one of our passports, we discovered that we were missing our ticket number. Thanks to the wonderful lady at Hartsfield and a few phone calls, we finally got checked in…or so we thought. As we were completing our check-in, Nicky brought us an extra bag to check. Apparently, while we were dealing with our check-in fiasco, Wayne discovered that he was missing his passport and didn’t know if he would make the flight. The suitcase held valuable supplies and we needed to make sure it came with us. Now, if you have flown post- 9/11, you know that they quiz you about your luggage..did you pack your luggage, did anyone put anything else in your bag…etc, etc. Well, you should have seen the look that we got as we added a last minute bag from a stranger….thankfully, she let it slide and all bags made the plane! However, Wayne was still missing from the picture. After not finding his passport in the car, he called his son Dylan who miraculously was at the Mall of Georgia. He graciously agreed to drive all the way home and look for the passport. With nothing to do but worry and waste time, we headed to grab our last decent meal for awhile. Thankfully, Dylan called 45 minutes later with the passport in hand and rushed it to Atlanta!! At 4:00, Wayne successfully checked in and we moved to security. THANK YOU DYLAN!

Hartsfield security is like no other. They are serious. They don’t play games. They don’t waste time. Well, this day was like any other. Thankfully there weren’t any lines! We walked right in and waited to endure this exciting treat! I (Jessica) never get stopped (knock on wood). I breezed right through with no problems. David, who once refused to take his shoes off and had to sit in a cubicle, shockingly breezed through without incident. Of course, this was too good to be true. Unfortunately, they didn’t like Susan and they didn’t like…Wayne! After all that he had been through…. We finally made it to our terminal around 4:45 to sit and wait on our plane. What a relief to finally be all together and ready to board!

Well, the fun didn’t stop there…..

As we (the Sanders) boarded the plane, there seemed to be a problem with our tickets. We were all pulled aside and there was some talk about a bag….hmmmmm….. However, they let us though without any issue!
So the ten person Bulgaria group loaded the plane ready to take off. An hour later….we FINALLY were in the air. Apparently, the machine that scans the bags decided to quit working so we could not take off until they manually entered every bag into the system.

Oh what fun the Atlanta airport has to offer!! The whole day we were on edge about what would lie ahead for us next! It was definitely a nerve-racking, frantic, and uneasy afternoon! Thankfully, this year we are all together (we made it to Prague) and still in one piece!

Please keep us in your prayers! Love you all!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mission Trip Itinerary 2010

July 16
Meet at FBC at 11:30 and leave for Hartsfield Airport.
Depart for Prague at 5:45 PM.
July 17
Arrive in Prague at 9:20 AM
Depart for Sofia at 11:30 AM
Arrive in Sofia at 2:25 PM.
Meet the rest of the group and travel to Lom.
July 18
Attend church at the Baptist Church in Lom.
Go to the orphanage and meet the kids and staff.
July 19-23
Work and play at the orphanage in Lom, possibly taking
older children on a field trip for a day.
July 23
In the evening leave Lom and go to Lovech.
July 24
Spend the day at the orphanage in Krushuna.
July 24
In the evening the group from Commerce will go to Sofia
and spend the night.
July 25
Depart for Paris at 6:55 AM.
Arrive in Paris at 8:50 AM.
Depart for Atlanta at 1:40 PM.
Arrive in Atlanta at 5:25 PM.

Back to Bulgaria!

On July 16th, a mission team from First Baptist Church of Commerce will embark on our fourth trip to the small town of Lom, Bulgaria. Through the leadership of Kris and Tedi Angelov, we will work alongside members from the UK to reach out to approximately 50 children from an orphanage in Lom.

This is a new experience for some; for others, we are reuniting with old friends. For all, it is an exciting and life-changing opportunity!

Each year, we prepare unsure of what lies ahead for us. We plan games, crafts, dances, and construction projects without knowing how many children will be available or what tools we will be able to use--or if all our luggage (and team members) will arrive!

This year we plan to make renovations to the playground we installed last summer. Wayne has also planned some small construction projects for the interior of the building. At the end of the week, we will travel to another orphanage in Lovech to install some playground equipment.

We have purchased dream catchers, picture boxes, tie-dyed shirts, wooden race cars, book bags, airplanes, beads, crayons, stickers, chalk, markers, bubbles, balloons, nail polish...and much more! Each day we will have crafts and games planned for the older and younger children. Our "lesson plans" aren't written in stone, however! We must ALWAYS be flexible!

We are so thankful for a church family that supports our endeavors. Without their support and prayers, these trips would not have been possible! Please continue to keep our entire team in your daily thoughts and prayers.

2010 Team Members:
Carlton Allen, Susan Harvin, David & Jennifer Sanders, Jessica, Joe, and Katherine Sanders, Karen Westbrooks, Wayne & Nicky Wilbanks
Kris & Tedi Angelov, Beth Watts, David & Emily Applegate, and Amie

Specific Prayer Requests for the Orphanage:

One of the boys, Zoiko, has a challenging history, and has recently broken his arm. The local hospital set it badly and it has healed in the wrong position. He’s in constant pain, and limited in movement. He has since had a second surgery to correct the original surgery. Please pray for a speedy recovery! May he have a positive attitude and patience!

This year we will be working with a new orphanage director, Tanya. She happens to be a good friend of Kris's cousins in Lom, who have already been talking to her about us, and then when she turned up at the orphanage all the kids were asking her if she knew us, so she is starting the job well-supplied with information on us, which is all good news! Please pray that this change will be a positive change for the workers, children, and for our mission team.

Concerns have been raised about dealing with emotionally disturbed children. The director has asked us to provide some information for the staff on any topic related to working with kids, working with challenging children, how to look after emotionally disturbed children, and especially, how to work with kids and engage them during the children's free time. Please pray that we will offer some guidance on this situation. Please pray especially for the older children that have a difficult time dealing with their emotions.

Changes in legislation regarding adoptions are occurring daily. Due to these changes, a new kindergarten facility is being built. If all goes according to plan, all the younger children will have been moved to a new location in the city by the end of the year. Please pray for these children and the separation anxieties that they may face.