I met one of my best friends in the world for coffee one more time before we moved to Bulgaria. It was really the last good long conversation about life and ministry, the kind Thomas and I both love, before my family departed for Sofia. Just before we finished off our coffee there at Celtic Cup Café in Tullahoma, he looked at me with a grin and said, “Man, you are gonna come back and say, ‘It is all true. I have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy miraculous things.” I was looking back over my journal at this conversation as I journaled about our first Sunday worship service as a church in Sofia. Indeed, I can say, “It is all true! I have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy miraculous things.”
Katie and I arrived in Sofia on September 28th, 2021. We did not have a single friend in Sofia when we landed, we did not have jobs through which to connect with people, our children did not have a school through which to connect with people, we did not belong to any groups or clubs. Still, a pastor I admire once said, “If you want to meet people then you will meet people. If you want relationships, you will make relationships.” We bought a whiteboard in faith. We put that whiteboard on the wall in our office/study and labelled it: “Relationships and Discipleship.” We prayed every single day. I mean we really have prayed and pleaded with God, for friends, for relationships, and for opportunities for discipleship. Miracles have names. They are the names of my friends, my neighbors, and now my fellow worshippers. Miraculous encounters, miraculously open hearts and minds, and miraculous conversations that God has created for our LORD’s glory. In December we ached for friends and a community. We ached to just be able to be with people and share our faith.
Even as we have prayed, we have studied to show ourselves approved: “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) We studied a language that would allow us to build these relationships when the time was right and God performed the miracle. We did not hide away, neglect, or avoid places and encounters that would require the use of the Bulgarian language. It is still not easy, but these difficult, embarrassing, awkward moments, are the
proof of our passion to serve and learn. To this day, there are three bundles of flashcards that I keep with me at all times, and my study drawer is filled with thousands and thousands of flashcards with Bulgarian vocabulary. It has always been important that we live into the Pentecost narrative and promise that, “all hear in their own language” the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 2)
Our first gathering was the weekend of Thanksgiving and Kaitlyn’s birthday last year. We prayed, you prayed, the church prayed, for 10 people to come to this gathering. 30 people came! My eyes tear up even now as I think of it: miraculous. It is all true! I have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy and miraculous things. Then, in February we decided to start a small group that would speak about and live into the essential practices and truths of the Christian faith and the Church of the Nazarene.
We started with 2 people that first week. Every study was in Bulgaria, every prayer in Bulgarian, and we grew together as we talked about Jesus. We prayed, you prayed, the church prayed, for this to develop and grow. 2 people became 4, and that became 6, and that became 11, and that became 12, and that became 20. We celebrated our first communion and Easter together. The “Essentials” group ended in May. It had grown, we had served out community, we had grown together as a community through it all: It is all true! I have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy and miraculous things.
Then, in June, we asked you to begin praying because this group was ready to meet as a church on Sundays. I began preparing to preach in Bulgarian, studying overtime. Katie began creating and translating children’s lessons into Bulgarian, as well as attendance and financial reporting documents. We cleaned our house, purchased a few necessary things, and began planning to meet in our home. We invited folks and began trying to prepare hearts and minds to come. We prayed, you prayed, the church prayed, and the Sofia church met this past Sunday, July 12th, for the first time. A beautiful, messy, and intimate beginning! After 9 months, there is a church where there was not one. I am reminded of the promises and praise of Peter: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…” (1 Peter 2:10) The body of Christ still grows! The Kingdom of God is still coming. It is all true! I have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy and miraculous things.
Everything was ready Sunday morning when one of our church members said, “I forgot to tell you that my good friend said that he would like to come with his family. So, I will go pick them up and bring them. (By the way our group prayed for this man to get a job, then when he got a new job, we prayed that he could buy a car, and then he bought a car just three weeks ago, and now he is bringing people to church with it!) Also, they are all Cuban. My good friend speaks English but he will need to translate for his family.” Wow! Sometimes great blessings do not come without struggle. Katie ran to print all the songs and scriptures (which we only had in Bulgarian) into English, and I quickly began looking over my sermon to see if I could possibly translate all the Bulgarian to English and preach in both.
Service started with 15 of us present, including several children, and a Cuban family living in Bulgaria. We sang, we prayed, and I preached, and each of us heard in our own language. I have always wondered about that passage in Acts, but I think now I really do know what it is all about. I preached in Bulgarian, then in English (alternating languages about every 2 sentences). Afterwards, one of my friends (a Bulgarian of course) who has supported and encouraged me in my language learning journey said, “Joshua, I do not know how you did that, and I did not think it was possible for you to do that. I thought I should see smoke coming from your head.” I told him I also did not know how it happened, but the Spirit had found a way. We prayed, you prayed, the church prayed! It is all true! I have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy and miraculous things!
It is summer here and that means most people are vacationing, travelling, and/or living in the villages where they are with family. This means that our Sunday gathering will be smaller than when September comes and we are all together again. But I am thankful for these times. It will be a season of learning together. It will be a season of figuring out what it means to be the church in Sofia. It will be a season of praying, and of keeping our eyes open. After all, it is all true! We have seen it! The LORD is still doing crazy and miraculous things that we can be a part of.
My brother and sisters, I feel like Mary on that first resurrection morning. She came face to face with Jesus in a way she could never have imagined. She thought she knew him, but then began to discover him in an even more glorious and miraculous way than ever before. She couldn’t explain it all, but what she could do is declare, “I have seen the LORD!” (John 20:18) It was not just knowledge, not an idea, or a simple concept that she declared. She was declaring the great news of an encounter with the living Jesus. She knew that he lives and that all the promises were true because she saw it all. The LORD Jesus was still doing crazy and miraculous things. Oh my, now the tears are coming, but IT IS ALL TRUE! I HAVE SEEN HIM! THE LORD IS STILL DOING CRAZY AND MIRACULOUS THINGS! I cannot explain it all, but my life seems to be one great news of encounter right after the other. God is good! The new things are on the horizon and I cannot wait to see it!