How can I be more excited for our ministry in Bulgaria now than I was a year ago? Katie and I just passed the one-year mark from when we officially announced our calling to be missionaries in Bulgaria. We could never have imagined that we would not be in Bulgaria yet. I journal daily and as we sat in our living room at Shady Grove yesterday evening, I began to read back through my experience of the last year. I was struck by the struggles, the waiting, the ups, and the downs, but most of all I was struck by the way we have experienced God’s presence, providence, and calling on our lives to be missionaries in Sofia all along the way. In fact, as I read my first entry, I was struck by the fact that the visa issues, COVID-19, the waiting, and the unknowns have in no way lessened or strangled our passion for Bulgaria, to learn the Bulgarian language, to study Bulgarian culture and history (even if only from a distance), and God’s vision and our belief that the Holy Spirit is at work in Sofia to bring people to Christ. Is it possible to be entirely engaged in the meaningful ministry of a season, while also looking forward to the place where God has called you?
Well, we have had the opportunity to accept the call to be the interim pastoral family for Shady Grove Church of the Nazarene in Decherd, Tennessee. I cannot imagine there being a more generous and welcoming church in the world. We have been amazed at the way the church family at Shady Grove has made a home for us, welcomed us into the church family, and given us an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in the church and community. It is such a blessing to be able to preach the Gospel, share in the journey of discipleship, and just have a temporary home here at Shady Grove. We are so pumped to have the opportunity to engage in life and ministry at this place in this time. And yet, we continue to believe and acknowledge that God is calling us to the city of Sofia!
I was trying to think about how to explain this feeling when I read about the experience of Paul in the latter part of Acts. Now, Shady Grove is most certainly MUCH better than a prison. But in Acts chapters 25-26 we are told that Paul is setup in prison, though given a pretty good life, for two years awaiting trial. In his commentary on Acts, Acts for Everyone, N.T. Wright sums up the situation: “Paul has been promised by God through his sense of vocation, and has been promised by Jesus through a special vision, that he would get to Rome.” If you read these chapters in Acts you find that Paul understands this “waiting game” to be an opportunity for ministry. So, he writes letters, he gives testimony to Christ, and he witnesses about Christ in conversations with the likes of Festus, Agrippa, Bernice, and all those looking on. Paul does not cease to be a minister of the Gospel in his time of waiting. He is up to important witness. Yet, as Wright points out in the same commentary, we are forced to ask along with Paul, “What had happened to his own sense of vocation about going to Rome? He had sent a letter to the church there, telling them he was on his way after a brief visit to Jerusalem…. And now this. What had happened, too, to Jesus’ clear promise to him, that he would get to Rome in the end?” You see, as important as Paul’s current ministry was, he continued to remember God’s promises and, though the timeline was uncertain and things were out of his control, Paul clung to his vocation, his calling, and the promise that he would get to Rome. Ultimately, though through many troubles and trials, Paul would make it to Rome and do important work there.
We believe that we are doing such important Kingdom work here at Shady Grove Church of the Nazarene in Decherd, TN. But what about our vocation, calling, and God’s clear promise to us that we will get to Sofia, Bulgaria, and that we will have an important part to play in the work of Christ in that great city? It has never faltered. Even as we work now, witnessing to the glorious work and presence of God, we cling to our calling and vocation with undying passion for Bulgaria, for Sofia, and for the promise of Christ that there is a work for us to do there. We have written our own letters, and shared our hearts with many, and we know that even if we experience many trials and times of waiting, we will reach the city to which we have been called.
So, here we are in this wonderful place of life and ministry, looking forward to that final place of life and ministry to which Christ has called us. We have just finished what is almost certainly our last online Bulgarian language course. We expect to receive all the documents we need to schedule our visa application and interview within the next week, we are in constant communication with our immigration attorney in Bulgaria, and the situation in Bulgaria looks better by the day. We continue to look for opportunities to share with others and invite them to journey with us in our calling. We are grateful for Shady Grove and the home and ministry we have found here.
We believe that the days are shortening. We can sense now that the doors are opening and we will soon be headed to Bulgaria. Will you pray for our immigration/visa process? Will you pray for open doors and a speedy timeline? Will you pray that we are a blessing to the people of Shady Grove and the community around us? Even as we ask, we have experienced the blessing of your prayers on our behalf. God is faithful, Sofia is calling, and we are more passionate than ever to be a part of the Mission of God by Serving in Sofia!