"This is the LORD'S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes." Psalm 118:23
Our praying friends and family in the Lord,
It may sound strange, but one of the hardest tasks to which a missionary obligates himself is the writing of prayer letters, particularly in this work. Where does one begin? I feel, as John wrote, that there are so many things the Lord has done, that I have heard or witnessed, "...the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books."
Since my brother's return from America I have been at liberty to attend the meetings of some of our other nationals. For three weeks or more, I opted to go with Pastor Ahmet. Ahmet is perhaps the hardest working national I know. He looks after 17 house churches and maintains at least two big gardens to help feed his family and pay his way. His churches are also the farthest away from where he lives. On Mondays he heads up the Black Sea coast to Balchik, while Thursday through Saturday finds him in the Balkan Mountains, about two and half hours from his home. And he treats each church with the same care, as if it were his only church, dedicating to each one the same amount of time and attention to detail.
Ahmet is by no means a loud or overly dramatic preacher, but his messages ring with the confidence that if you believe God he'll do the same for you. And all his meetings reflect the same hospitality and generosity he shows. In some meetings he has to cut the testimonies short to allow time for preaching, the result of his contagious faith. In Varbitsa he has a Gypsy meeting. While all our Turkish gypsies love to sing, pray and testify, the gypsies of Varbitsa do it with reckless abandon. In the short time I've been here, I haven't heard a more exuberant or joyful bunch of singers as reside in Varbitsa. Their joy is made all the more poignant because the house where we meet is less than 50 feet from the village mosque. And while the call to prayer does little to move the ritualistic Muslim, the songs of Zion raise the roof of the shack next door.
Several years ago, on our honeymoon, we were able to visit the great Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, the jewel of Ottoman Islam. A little ways away stood the famed Saint Sophia church, a religious marvel of Eastern Roman antiquity. But neither of them hold a candle to the little dilapidated house on the hill in the mountain village of Varbitsa, where God comes down and visits with his people.
Bro. Larry Leach has returned to America for furlough. In his absence I'll be going to his meetings with national Pastor Ismael. All of Bro. Larry's churches were sad to see him go. My first visits in his stead, they all told how they cried the hour they knew Larry and his family were in the air. Pastor Ismael said, "It was like my own son was leaving me." One woman, a little vague on international travel, assumed Larry would be taking a balloon to America, and asked how many days it would take. Still, all of his churches have received me graciously. On the way to the first meeting I asked Bro. Ismael who normally did the preaching. He replied, "Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was Larry, but now it's you – all you!" I said, "But I don't even know Turkish!" He replied, "Öğrenmek lazım" – you'll have to learn. Please pray then, that my Turkish is not only understandable but edifying.
Recently I was able to accompany Bro. Ahmet in the flour distribution. As he's been doing this a number of years now, he had it down to a science. Four of us, myself, Ahmet and two other nationals, followed the flour truck in a separate vehicle as we made our way to the villages. In the village, Ahmet instructed the driver which house to go to and how many bags of flour would be offloaded. At the house, Ahmet inquired as to the best place to store the bags while we began the offloading. Let me say here, that it was a stroke of genius on the part of whichever missionary ordered the flour in 25 kilogram bags as opposed to the customary 50 kilogram bags; it was twice the work, but less wear and tear on us. It was softly raining on this particular day, so that by the time we finished the day, we looked as though we had collapsed in concrete, rather than having carried flour. Typically, as we worked, a crowd would gather, eyes wide, as bag after bag of flour was taken into usually the poorest house in the village. It was a blessing to know, that truly, "the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread." What a testimony!
For the last few months, Bulgaria has been in turmoil. What started as a protest against sky-rocketing energy costs, quickly turned into a rage against the entire Bulgarian political system. So rapidly did things escalate, that the prime minister's entire cabinet resigned soon after the protests began. And a few weeks ago, less than a mile from where we live, on the steps of the state capitol, a man set himself afire – dying in protest of a failing government. In the villages, the topic of conversation revolves around the amount of money they receive in pensions versus what they have to pay for medicine and utilities. As Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU, the average worker making 540 lev a month ($360), and the average pensioner receiving less than half of that, they can't do both. It's either buying medicine and defaulting on utilities or vice versa.
Regarding the unbelievers, it is easy to see the magnitude of their predicament and to sympathize with their feelings of hopelessness, frustration and resentment. And yet, faced with the same difficulties, our believers maintain their hope in God who hears and answers their prayers. In the village of Mirovsti, a woman testified that her pension was far less than the medicine her doctor prescribed for a life-long affliction. She got tired of always borrowing to make ends meet. One day, in her frustration, she complained to the Lord that he was going to have to do something about it because she couldn't live like that anymore. She went for her regularly scheduled checkup, and, after all her tests came back, the doctor said she no longer had to take the medicine; she was cured. She returned home, and in a few months had paid off all her creditors.
Given the state of affairs presently existing in Bulgaria, it is easy to see and understand the joy that accompanies receiving a couple bags of flour and a bottle of oil. It means that amidst all of their present uncertainties, they don't have to worry about eating. It also means, as Bro. Zach recently preached to them from the life of Elijah, that while everything around them is drying up, God still takes care to provide for his own. We are still in the process of buying and distributing flour and oil if anyone else is interested in getting in on the blessing.
Pray for our family. The Lord knows all our needs and sees, and will see, to their supply. God is so good.
We love you all. God bless you.
Because of a living Saviour,