Monday, August 6, 2018

Sunday, August 5th

On my very first visit to the orphanage 10 years ago I met Katya and Nikolina.  We had a special bond and over the years that has continued.  I communicate with them via Facebook and Google translator through out the year.  Nikolina is now 24 and is married and has a 4 year old daughter, Vicky.  They live over and hour away from Lom and manage a dairy farm.  Nikolina was able to come and stay in Lom for a few days with her daughter Vicky while we were in town.  It allowed us to spend a lot of time together. It was wonderful and she has really been practicing her English so communication was a little easier.  I also got to spend time with sweet little Vicky.  She is precious, well behaved, and was so much fun!  Vicky called me Baba Susan.  Baba is the Bulgarian word for grandmother.  Makes my heart just melt! Nikolina is a good mother and I'm so proud of her.

Katya is 22 years old and also has a child of her own, Svetlina is 10 months old and is so cute! Katya lives with her boyfriend, his parents and extended family.  She says at times it is very difficult but is determined to be a good mother for her child. Nikolina and Katya are determined to be the kind of mothers they wish they had had. 

Sunday was another day of visiting our kids.  In the morning we spent time with the kids at the second group home.  This group home opened after the orphanage closed.  It’s on the opposite end of town from the first group home.
Several of our kids are there as well as some new ones.  They were happy to see us and we spent several hours making bracelets, coloring and playing soccer (well Jennifer, Nicky and I didn't play soccer, but luckly our translator Steffi's son was there to kick the ball around with the guys!). We caught up on how they were doing.  They are all teenagers now except for one small boy Joseph who loved playing chase with Nikolina's daughter Vicky.  
We discovered they needed some new soccer balls and jump ropes so Vanessa and Sashco walked to the store with us to pick them out.  It was time to say goodbye so there where hugs and well wishes all around.

After lunch we went to the special needs group home to see Bobo and Gloria. Both were at the orphanage. Bobo is one of the triplets that grew up in the orphanage.  His brother Miso and and sister Krasa are now living in Sofia in a transitional home for orphans and are doing well.  Miso takes the bus to Lom when he can to visit his brother.  The home is a wonderful facility with a very caring  staff.  We enjoyed tossing balls, coloring and doing puzzles with the kids. We feel really good about Bobo, Gloria and the other residents.  They seem happy and well cared for.

Saturday, August 4

We set out on our Back to School shopping trip Saturday morning. The town of Lom, Bulgaria has a downtown square surrounded by several shops. Since Walmart has not come here, these little shops offer a fairly good variety of many different items. There are several shoe stores and clothing stores along with a shop for school supplies and a couple of toy stores. Last year was our first experience taking 15 Bulgarian kids shopping with only two translators. I think the group home directors must have heard about our chaotic expedition because this year they divided the kids into smaller groups. This made shopping a little easier for us. We divided up and took the boys to the stores they preferred and the girls to the stores they liked. We encouraged the kids to select jeans and tops that they can wear to school. Each child also bought shoes. Most of the kids are teenagers so they have very definite opinions about clothing! The girls enjoyed the opportunity to try on outfits and get opinions from their friends. One group home recently got a cute 6 year old boy named "Go Go". His director personally brought him and we all accompanied them to the children's shop. Go Go was excited to choose his new clothing and action hero underwear. This year's shopping trip was much smoother and enjoyable than last year's trip! We are so grateful for our congregation and friends who have supported the Bulgaria mission fund each year! Your contributions made 15 to 20 kids very happy! 

Katie's daughter, Bo, was home from Denmark this year. We had not seen her since she translated for us five years ago. It was so good to see Bo and catch up! Bo was a tremendous help again this year translating for us!

Saturday was a good day filled with shopping and sharing time together. We met new kids and reconnected with kids we know. We spent time talking and sharing news. The kids remember everyone who has come to visit. They really missed not being able to see the other members of our team, too! 

After lunch we spent a few hours at the original group home in Lom. This home opened 10 years ago and we have supported them in many ways. Their director, Katia, is so friendly and appreciative of everything we have done! She is in charge of 8 or 9 kids including little Go Go. Katia was eager to brag on each child! She gave us very detailed reports of their progress in school and other activities. She told us about their recent "Master Chef" contest within the group home. The kids organized the contest with three teams. Each team cooked and served a different dish. Everyone tasted and voted on the winning team. Katia also told us about Gloria who won a scholarship prize by writing an essay. Her prize included money to purchase books and a cell phone. Gloria is entering the 11th grade and she hopes to go to college and become a photographer one day.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lom: August 3, 2018

August 3 - Plan A: This is what was supposed to happen. Our van, with automatic transmission and large enough to carry 6 people and their luggage, would arrive at 9:30. We would load up, and Susan would drive the 3-hour trip to Lom with stops in Mezdra and Montana to visit some of our kids. This is what really happened: The minivan arrived a little late; it had manual transmission, and it did not have room for six people and luggage. Susan bravely offered to drive anyway, but there was no way we were all going to fit in that van! I use the word bravely because roads in Bulgaria aren’t great and are mostly two lanes. Bulgarian drivers are known to pass other cars any time, anywhere.

Plan B - Sadly, we didn’t have a Plan B, but Steffi quickly got to work and made one up. She and the hotel manager began phoning rental agencies. No luck. They even phoned some of their friends who owned vans. No luck. Fortunately, Steffi was able to get in touch with a transportation company who worked with her school. They had a van! They had a driver! It would be large enough for us and our luggage! It wouldn’t be available until 2:30, but it was our only option.

Van and driver were a little late but they did arrive. The driver was skillful and uncomplaining. The main highway to Lom was closed, so he had to take a longer, bumpier detour. He will return to Lom on Monday morning to take us back to Sofia. We continue to be impressed by and thankful for the kindness of Bulgarian strangers.

We stopped in Mezdra to visit Bobby and Sylvia who were originally in the orphanage in Lom but were moved to Mezdra when the orphanage closed. We always refer to Bobby as “Smiling Bobby”; we have never seen him without a smile on his face. We were able to give them news of some of their friends in other group homes and a few of the girls who had been adopted and were now living in the United States.

Our next stop was in Montana to see brothers Zoran and Alex, mine and Wayne’s special favorites. They left the group home to be reunited with their mother in 2012 and are doing well. As usual, the brothers argued back and forth about who was the smartest, the cutest, the most athletic, etc. We also met Zoran’s girl friend who seemed shy and maybe a little overwhelmed by us.

It was after dark when we finally made it to Lom. As soon as our driver dropped us off, he headed back to Sofia. He didn’t get home until after midnight. It had been a long and stressful day, but we still had one more task. We met with the directors of the three group homes and Lom’s Director of Social Services so that we could plan for our days in Lom. We managed to have supper around 10:00. It was a long day but a happy one filled with meeting old friends and making a few new ones.   

Bobby and Silvia

Zoran and Alex

Sofia: August 2nd

August 2 - Early start today! Steffi met us at the hotel so that we could do some shopping for our Bulgaria kids who no longer live in Lom. Zoiko, Dobri, and Misho met us in downtown Sofia. Zoiko is a student at the university, and Dobri will begin his university studies soon. Misho and his sister Krasa also live and work in Sofia. We have known these guys since 2007.

We are so proud of the responsible, hardworking young men that they have become. Marinka and her baby son Christo joined us also. Marinka is a very dedicated mom, and Christo is so adorable! He was unbelievably content during several hours of shopping and walking around downtown Sofia. 

Dorene, a former orphanage resident and now a young man in his twenties, joined us for
supper. He has been working in Sofia for four years now. He works at a gas station full time (No self service gas pumps in Bulgaria!) and also does construction work as a part time job. Dorene says that he was able to get this job because he learned a lot working along side our FBC men doing renovation work on the orphanage.

Our first trip to Lom was in 2007. This year we are celebrating ten years of successful mission trips and wonderful friendships in Bulgaria. We hope that we have made a difference in the lives of our children in Lom. They have certainly been a blessing for all of us.

Now for the not-so-good news: Steffi received a call from the van rental place saying that the van we were supposed to get tomorrow morning had been in a wreck. Unfortunately, this was the only van that they had with automatic transmission. They promised to do their best to find another van with automatic transmission and would deliver it tomorrow morning as promised. We hope for the best but fear the worst!

Dobri, Misho, and Zoiko 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Back to Bulgaria--August 2018

We had a smooth trip from Atlanta to Sofia! We are so very thankful for all the prayers! We had supper tonight with Steffi, our friend and translator along with two of our “kids”, Zoiko and Radi! It was great to see them! Zoiko has two more years of university. He has been battling cancer for the past year. He goes back to Turkey in September for a final checkup. Radi looks good! She is working full time at a restaurant in Sofia. It was good to see them and catch up! We are so grateful that they are managing on their own in Sofia!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Update on Naiden

Meet Naiden, my first and best friend in Bulgaria. Briefly, this is Naiden’s story. Naiden lived at the orphanage longer than any other child; he was only a toddler when his parents left him at the orphanage. They never visited or contacted him again. He doesn’t know if he has brothers, sisters, or any other relatives. For his entire life all holidays and birthdays were spent at the orphanage. The orphanage became his home and his family.

In 2007 on my first visit to the orphanage in Lom, Naiden and I quickly realized that we shared an interest in gardening when he proudly showed me his small vegetable garden. Through our translator, I told him that he and I could weed the garden together the next day. By the time I arrived the next morning, he had the garden completely weeded; he had worked into the night to get the job done. This was our first indication of Naiden’s amazing work ethic.

Life wasn’t easy for Naiden. When we arrived at the orphanage in 2008, Naiden wasn’t there. He had been sent away for special treatment for his “anger issues”. He was able to return to the orphanage for one afternoon so that he could visit with us. His permanent return to the orphanage was questionable. However, being the resilient young man that he is, he overcame his problems and was back at the orphanage in time for our arrival in 2009.

Through the years many of the older boys looked forward to working with our men on various repair and renovation projects in the orphanage. Naiden became one of the most dependable and able workers. From the age of thirteen Naiden would find a summer job in town, usually doing hard manual labor on a construction site. He would finish his job and return to the orphanage around 4:30, just in time to get his orphanage work assignment from Wayne and David. After supper he would begin his orphanage assignment, many times working until 3:00 or 4:00 AM.The next morning he would leave the orphanage around 7:00 for his summer job. He kept up this schedule throughout our entire visit.

Naiden now lives in Sofia and has a good job at a construction company keeping an inventory of supplies coming in and going out. He has friends and a good life. Although there is nothing in his early years that would predict a happy and successful life, no one deserves it more than Naiden. I love a story with a happy ending! 


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!