“Imagine a world without the church.” This was the question that I asked at the beginning of many a service, as our family travelled to share our calling to Bulgaria and invite others to join the journey with us. Little did I know that, in a certain way, I would not have to imagine this reality. When our family arrived in Sofia, there was no Nazarene church here, there were no believers we were connected too. Suddenly, for the first time in our lives, we found ourselves without a local church. We were without that encouragement, that support, that inspiration, that precious life together that we have always lived for.
The easiest and, seemingly, most sensible thing to do would have been to find a good church here in Sofia (and there are some good churches here) and fill that void. However, as we prayed and sought God’s face about this hunger and thirst for Christian community, we believed that it was important to allow that void, that hunger, to compel us with a sense of urgency, to fulfilling God’s call on our lives to be used for the creation of a new local body of believers; a Church of the Nazarene. This was difficult. There were tears, prayers of lamentation, and pleading with God for opportunities to see a church come into existence, where before there was not one.
Planting a church is not just, for us, just a task to be accomplished, but a spiritual, relational, and emotional hunger that needs satisfying as urgently as our thirst for water. Many people ask us, “So, what does ministry/work look like for you on a day-to-day basis?” One of my favorite books on community is Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Whenever someone asks this (a great question by the way), I immediately think of a quote from this book: “the person who loves those around them will create community.” This is our work. It was the work of Christ. The difference is that, though we can love those around us and create community, only Christ can create the church. So, leaning and relying on the Holy Spirit, we have loved people with great expectations that Christ would honor this by the birth of the church: “We called on the LORD and he has heard our voice!”
For two months now there has been a new Church of the Nazarene in Sofia! It might not look like the church you attend on Sunday mornings, but it is the church. Each week, we gather on Tuesday evenings, we pray together, we sing praises together, we read scripture together, we have a lesson, we eat a meal together, and we laugh, cry, support, help, and encourage one another. I am currently reading through the Gospel of Luke and I am affirmed and encouraged by the fact that these are the things the disciples of Christ were doing together. In addition to worshipping on Tuesday evenings, we have been showing compassion to our community by providing necessities to refugees, helping them find housing, helping them with doctor appointments, and getting documents translated. We can do this because we are a small group, but a group with diverse giftings, abilities, and resources. We are the church! We are only a group of 15, but we are the church. and this church is growing. When we started our meeting 2 months ago there were 8 of us. Now we are 15.
At one of our recent meetings, I had a guy in our group come up to me after our time together and say, “Joshua, we are beginning to have a problem.” I was curious and a bit concerned: “Yes,” I said, “what is the problem.” He smiled and said, “Your table is the problem. It is getting too small!” I haven’t heard such good news in a long time! It opened a conversation about the future, about God’s table, and about the blessing of being together.
God is good and these are exciting days! In the weeks ahead, we will begin preparing for an Easter event and we will be inviting new people to celebrate and become a part of this church. Please help us pray for a meaningful Easter. God is faithful! We are also excited about the coming of Spring. It is difficult to get together with people when it is cold, snowy, and dark. But now the sun is shining longer into the evening, the days are getting warmer, and the trees are in bloom. Already, we are beginning to realize that the opportunities to be with people are increasing exponentially! We are excited for the possibilities for sharing life with our church group and for being with new people that we would love to share Christ with. Thanks be to God! Help us pray for more relationships, more opportunities, and that we would be faithful with those opportunities.
I remember finishing those services where I asked about imagining the world without the church by saying, “I cannot wait to tell you how God grows the church!” I am excited to share this with you, but I am even more excited for the future, and for the ways God will be growing the church in the future! Behold, new life is always on the horizon!