Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Girls

After a very dumpy and curvy drive thru the mountains back to Sofia, we are in our hotel and will be leaving at 4:45 am in the morning to catch our 7:00 am flight home.  It has been a wonderful week!

 I have had a special relationship with 2 girls which was establish the first year I came to the orphanage in 2008.  They were 12 and 15 yeas old then. They are now 20 and 23years old.  Both are out on their own. Katya is living in Lom with her boyfriend and her boyfriends parents.  She is expecting a baby in October.  Nikolina lives in a near by village with her husband and little girl Vicky.  They have a small dairy farm.  Nikolina's husband speaks English and I told him about the family Shirley Show Cattle business back in Commerce. I gave him a Shirley Feed & Seed hat to wear on his Bulgarian farm.  He said " Great, now Shirley Feed & Seed has gone international!"

I keep up with both the girls through Facebook during the year, especially Nikolina.  We talk, via Google translator" several times a week and she  sends me pictures of her and  daughter Vicky.  The Bulgarian word for grandmother is BaBa.  The first time I saw them on Thursday, There were hugs and kisses all around and little Vicky was calling me BaBa.  Yes....that melted my heart!  She is such a smart little girl and her father is teaching her English.  She is only 3 years old but has a great vocabulary of English.  She also stayed up with Nikolina and I after 11:00 pm each night visiting and she never cried or got fussy.  She does not have a lot of children to play with where they live so she was enjoying all the attention.  She also took to Beth, from England, and cried when she had to go home.

No matter who we are, where we live, or our circumstances, we all want to be loved and valued.  I am grateful these girls and all the children along the way have come into my life. It has been a blessing to my life.  I carry them in my heart until we meet again!


Last day in Lom

It's Beth from England on blog duty today, so please forgive any British-isms y'all!

This morning we trekked up the hill to the group home, where the children from the old kindergarten home were also waiting for us. Thankfully we had come prepared with loom bands and playing cards, so we spent an hour or two playing, chatting, and fielding a thousand questions such as "Is Coca Cola the same in English?" from Loucho. Some of the group played a boisterous game of spoons outside. (No cutlery related injuries reported!) The goodbyes were hard, as they always are, but we've become fairly adept at trying to limit the tears, by making our move quickly. Thankfully we can always rely on Jennifer to be equipped with Kleenex, as it is not only the children who find it difficult.

David and Emily did an excellent job getting us across country to Belogradchik, a natural fortress rock formation, dodging enormous convoys of farm machinery. We met Nikolina, her family, and Katya at a restaurant overlooking the rocks, and had a delicious lunch with break-speed service. A slightly hairy drive later, and we were at the rocks, which some of the group had visited with Kris in 2007. It's absolutely stunning, with dramatically perched rocks forming a very convenient fortress. Nikolina's husband gave us an excellent history lesson, explaining the various empires and conquests in the fortress' past.

We got back in once piece, and had a wonderful final group dinner, with Adi, her daughter, Nikolina and her daughter, Zoiko, Katya, and Radi joining us. The little girls delighted and entertained us. It's been wonderful seeing our 'girls' grow into young women, caring for their own babies with patient love and affection.

Ten years of visiting our children in Lom have provided us with a lot of memories to reflect on during our last evening here. A few of us have shared memories of the various children after dinner, looking at old photos, and reminiscing.

We've seen so many changes in the way looked after children are cared for in Bulgaria. Whilst the orphanage was never an ideal environment, it improved dramatically over the years, with staff appearing more engaged and attentive each year. It was cleaner, brighter, and more suited to its purpose by the time it closed. The European Union has pushed for more children to be in group homes, providing something similar to a family environment, in an attempt to limit the extent to which children are institutionalised by their childhoods. Many of the youngest children have been adopted or fostered; ultimately our hope for all of the children.

We have worked with some amazingly patient, compassionate, and innovative people. The staff do a terrific job of caring for challenging children, with limited funds, and very little remuneration. We have been welcomed by the congregation of the Baptist church, and greeted every year as old friends. Various people from the town have dropped in to help us over the years.

This year would not have been possible without Steffi and Sammy, our gracious and patient mother and son duo, who translate for us at the group homes, in toy shops, and in restaurants. Steffi maintains contact with our children throughout the year, and I doubt that we'll ever really comprehend how much work she does on our behalf. She is an enormous blessing, and an amazing ambassador for Christ. She loves the children as much as we do. Sammy has a brilliant sense of humour and has inherited his mother's patience.

We've marvelled at the progress the children have made, despite their circumstances. We've seen many stories of perseverance and hard work; children who have learnt a trade, gone to university, or raised a family. Children who have been broken, angry and lost, now leading others, caring for themselves and helping others. Whilst we have been disappointed in the choices that some of them have made sometimes, we remember that they have grown up without parents or stable carers to advise them, or give them the safety net to make mistakes. They face decisions that we can only imagine, with little experience of the world outside Lom. We hope that we've made it clear that we are there for them no matter what. We are so proud of what all of them have accomplished. The goodbyes are so hard because our love for them is ten years strong, built on good times, challenging times, and a lifetime commitment. It's but a glimpse of how God loves them, and it comes to us naturally only because He's shown us how.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Friday, July 28

What a day!  We began by shopping for toys, games, and cleaning supplies for the three group homes. Our church family as well as others in the community have generously donated to the Bulgaria Fund throughout the years.  We even have one family in Wyoming who has donated monthly for several years. We and the children are extremely grateful. 

Next stop was one of the group homes. This home originally housed younger children but now is home for about 8 young teen-aged boys and girls. We knew most of the children from their years in the orphanage.  The house is neat, clean, and cheerful with a play area outside.  

Fortunately, we brought jump ropes. When Sasha was at the orphanage, she was definitely Queen of the Jump Ropers. She demonstrated those skills once again.  Several other kids took turns too.  Hula hoops were also a big hit.  David Applegate played soccer with the boys while others made several dozen silly band bracelets.  As I write this, I am wearing three. After lots of hugs and photos, we went to the second group home.  

This home houses children and young adults who are mentally and/or physically handicapped. What a wonderful place for these children to live!  The home is new and was built specifically for their needs.  They have a colorful new playground in the middle of a well-kept lawn which is surrounded by attractive plants.  They even have a cat and kittens!

Again, some of the children had previously lived at the orphanage. Bobo, one of our most memorable children from the orphanage, lives in this group home.  We met the triplets; Bobo, Krassa, and Misho; on our very first trip to Lom in 2007.  Bobo will never be able to live on his own; he will always need someone to take care of him. Misho and Krassa now live in Sofia where Misho works to take care of himself and his sister.  The separation has been difficult for all three of them. 

When we walked in, Bobo recognized us and immediately began to cry. Everyone in the room was teary-eyed. I think we were a reminder of his years in the orphanage when he was with his sister and brother. We all knew how much he loved and depended on Misho; he misses Misho and Krassa terribly. The director was able to cheer him up by giving him the task of showing us around the home. By the time we had refreshments, Bobo was smiling once again.  

Gloria also lives in this group home.  When she and her brother came to the orphanage a few years ago, Gloria was severely malnourished.  She was the skinniest child I had ever seen. Amazingly, she was a very happy little girl.  She loved playing games and doing crafts.  She was thrilled with the little prizes that she won. The other children were especially kind and encouraging to her.  Although she is still thin, she is healthy.  It is easy to tell that she is being loved and cared for in her new home.

It was hard to leave Bobo, Gloria, and the other children, but we had one more group home to visit.  This home was the first group home in Lom and is home to eight children ranging in ages from fourteen to eighteen.  The boys and girls in this home are all old friends of ours. Many were living in the orphanage in 2007 when we first visited Lom.  They always give us an enthusiastic welcome when we come to their home.  They had all participated in preparing refreshments, cleaning, and making welcome signs.

Our big surprise was the appearance of Svetli who just happened to be in Lom for the day.  He had left the orphanage before our 2013 visit, but we all remembered him.  He drove Wayne CRAZY!! He always wanted to help with the construction projects but wasn’t really much help.  In fact, he probably made more work for the others.  Wayne tried to fire Svetli, but Svetli just wouldn’t give up.  He really liked helping the guys and really liked Wayne in spite of Wayne’s failed efforts to fire him.  Svetli told me that he still worked in construction and planned to make a career of it.  He said it was all because of the work he did at the orphanage with Wayne and the other men. I told him I knew that Wayne would be very proud of him. (Wayne would also be very surprised, but I didn’t tell Svetli that.) 

Have you ever thought it might be fun to take fifteen non-English speaking teen-agers on a shopping trip with only one translator? I can tell you it is not fun. I don’t know who thought this up and why we all went along with it. Anyway, we all walked to downtown Lom and let the children lose in a clothing store.  They were thrilled; most of them had not ever had the opportunity to choose their own clothes. They were accustomed to wearing other people’s hand-me-downs. They were actually getting to pick out several different outfits and try them on.  They just didn’t want that fun to stop! After visiting four or five stores, trying on countless outfits, and annoying dozens of sales people, we were done.  We all celebrated with a round of soft drinks and headed back to the group home.  Later that evening we saw three of our boys strutting around town in their new outfits (see photo).  I guess it was worth the trouble after all.   


No bo

Friday, July 28, 2017

Day 3: Zoran and Alex

We first met brothers Zoran and Alex in 2007. The boys quickly became Wayne’s favorites. He was immediately impressed by Zoran’s athletic ability and spent lots of time throwing the football with him. Zoran was also quite clever and charming; he had a way of getting what he wanted. 

Alex’s sweet smile made everyone fall in love with him. After returning home from Bulgaria, obviously, we talked about Zoran and Alex a lot. Dylan began referring to them as his two new little brothers. If Wayne could have brought them home with us, he would have. Although Zoran and Alex had parents, most of their young lives had been spent in the orphanage. 

In the fall of 2012 the boys were finally reunited with their mom and lived in a beautiful town in a mountainous section of northern Bulgaria. Our group visited them in 2013. Both boys were happy and healthy and were thrilled to show us around their new town. Because Zoran was athletically gifted, he had the opportunity to go to a special school for talented athletes. 

The boys now live with their mom and stepdad in Montana, an area south of Lom. They go to a technical school that focuses on agriculture and mechanics. They live at school five days a week and come home on the weekend. Although they are young men now, they have retained their boyish charm. Their lives are happy, full of family and friends. Wayne would be so pleased and so proud of them!


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Day 2: Mezdra, Montana, and Lom

Today after doing a little shopping in Sofia while the men toured a couple of churches, we went to Mezdra. While in Mezdra we went to one of the group homes to visit and tour the facility where Asia, Bobby, and Sylvia live.  Afterwards we walked to town with Asia,  Bobby and Sylvia. 

While in town we bought them shoes and school supplies as well as two board games. Asia has been adopted and will be moving to Seattle Washington in August. Some of the team left their addresses and phone numbers for her in case she needs us for anything. She has already taken some English lessons.

Our next stop was to see Kassandra in Montana. She is 16 now and has a year old little boy. Of course this is not an ideal situation. It took 30 minutes to convince her boyfriends family to let them come see us. The family would only let her come with the baby if a family member came too. So they finally got to the restaurant where we were waiting and we got to visit for awhile. 

While in Montana we picked up  two of our favorites.....Zoran  and Alex! They are coming with us  to Lom and we will drop them back home on our way back to Sofia on Sunday.  They will be staying in the group home they used to stay in before going back to live with their mother and step-dad. 

Accomplished  a good bit today even with the police stopping Emily!!!! No ticket!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Day 1: Sofia

It has been two years since we last came to Bulgaria, so we should not be surprised at how much things have changed. The main orphanage in Lom closed this year and all of the kids that we know have been split up and sent to live in different places.  Since we do not have an orphanage full of kids in which we could work, this year's trip has been very different so far. The other major change is that many of "our" kids have grown up! Today we saw eight of the kids from Lom who are now living in Sofia. We were very impressed with each of them and surprised at how well they are doing. Zoycho is 23. He has completed his first year of university. He has a part time job at a bakery and hopes to get a degree in social work. Naiden, Anatoly and Darine all have jobs and live on their own. Benny has completed a year of military school and has the rank of a sergeant. He has three more years of school. Misho and his sister, Krasa and another boy, Yannislav, are living in transitional housing for young people and working. They all seemed very happy and we enjoyed supper with them! We also saw Marinka in a town south of the city.  She has a newborn son, Christof.  We enjoyed meeting her boyfriend and seeing their new family. We are very grateful to have Emily and David Applegate from the U.K.! They have been great to drive us around this trip. Beth Watts, our other friend from the U.K., is also here! As always, God provided us with a wonderful friend and translator, Steffi! She will be guiding us around is week in our quest to see the kids. Our dear friend, Kris Angelov surprised us and came to greet us when we arrived. He also stopped by our supper. Kris is the reason we came to Bulgaria in the first place. He and his wife, Tedi, inspired us to share God's love with these children. We are grateful to God for allowing us so many opportunities to serve him and love these kids over the past ten years.


Aside from doing magic tricks, Zoycho also works at a bakery in Sofia

Karen and Benny

Group Dinner in Sofia 

Darine works at a local gas station

Marinka with her new baby and boyfriend 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

We've arrived!

It took us 25 hours, but we are finally here! Susan, Jennifer, Karen, and I arrived at the Sofia airport at 11:00 PM Eastern Europe time.  All of our luggage made it too! Joe flew landed just a short while before us, ending his spectacular back packing trip through Europe.  

We were met at the airport by Zoiko, Emily and David Applegate from England, Kris Angelov, and Steffi Petrova. Emily did a terrific job shuttling us all back to the hotel.  Driving in Sofia is not for the faint of heart.

Tomorrow we will see all of our kids (young men and women really) that now live and work in Sofia.  We will also visit Marinka, her husband, and baby.  Later in the week we will visit some of the other girls who now have children of their own.  We're excited about our second generation of Bulgarian children.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Back to Bulgaria!

        On July 24, we will be returning to Bulgaria for a week-long trip.  Susan Harvin, Jennifer Sanders, Karen Westbrooks and Nicky Wilbanks will be making the trip from FBC.  The main orphanage that we have visited over the past several years, has now been closed.  The children were split up and put into different group homes around the country.  There are now three group homes in the town of Lom.  We plan to visit as many group homes as possible in Lom and other towns in order to contact the children from the large orphanage.  Many of you have generously donated to the Bulgaria Mission.  We plan to use those funds to purchase clothes, school supplies and other items for the children in Bulgaria.  As always, the team members pay for their own travel, hotel and food expenses.  The Bulgaria fund is used primarily for the children.  We appreciate your support and generosity!  Our team will provide a report on this trip once we return.  We are not taking supplies this year, so we do not need donations of any items.  We ask for your prayers as we share your gifts with the Bulgarian orphans. 

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