Relationships are a miracle. I believe they are at the heart of God. Perhaps, when we think of miracles, we think of God providing lesser necessities, but really is there anything more precious, more necessary, for us as human beings than relationships? Perhaps, we have not noticed how important relationships are, and so we throw around jokes about the difficulties of being with certain people, about not being a “people-person”, how difficult holidays are with family, or how we prefer the couch, television, or social media as our company.
But, just for a moment, imagine that you have moved to a new place, where the language is different, the clothes are different, the weather is different, the holidays are different, the stores are different, the currency is different, the entertainment is different, and whether good or bad, everything is new and there is so much that you do not understand. Also, remember that in order to go to a new place you must leave an old, comfortable, understood, and reliable world behind.
Now, imagine, as you navigate this new place, this new world, that you have no existing relationships with anybody in that city. You have no one to call on a tough day, no one to play with your kids, no one to hang out with and drink coffee, no one to talk with about the ups and downs of daily existence, no one to hug, no one to complain to, cry to, celebrate with, or seek for counsel and advice in the practicalities of this new world. Now, imagine that your kids are not in school, you do not belong to any clubs, you do not have a regular job with coworkers, and do not have a local church to attend. How will you meet people as you begin to really feel the hunger for relationships?
You still have people, but they are dozens, hundreds, and thousands of miles away. There is no substitute for presence. The LORD settles for nothing less than Emmanuel. Can you begin to understand why, on Thanksgiving when a bunch of “Pilgrims” finally met and built relationships with their first neighbors, they made a feast, called a holiday, and spent some time celebrating. A memorial which lasts to this day in the United States of America.
Can you begin to imagine why Katie and I, when we landed in Bulgaria, began to immediately, passionately, and urgently praying for friends, for relationships, for community in this new world? I mean, in case you are still wondering what the big deal is, remember the old lesson about how, with around 33 years to live, the Savior of the world did not spend hours filling the pages of great chronicles or textbooks (although I am grateful for the people who do), he did not spent years constructing fine establishments (again, grateful), or amass great earthly wealth (like the previous two this can be such a blessing). The passionate, immediate, and urgent concern of Christ was relationships. The concern was to build community and so bring redemption in community for those in need of a great light!
I am an introvert. I love people. I love relationships, but this means that I process relationships and interactions differently. In situations of extreme social interaction, I have a rhythm of finding space, just a few moments in a quiet corner, a brief respite over a cup on the margins, or retreating to a wayward chair, in order to come up for air, to process the space and people around me, and prepare to dive back in. My wife will often notice this, during a party or service, with a wink and a smile, and comment on it later. I came up for air this the Sunday before last during a birthday party for our sweet daughter. I sat down at the bottom of our staircase with a cup of Nescafe and I looked around at almost 30 people in my living room, adults and children of all ages (the same way I had looked at the table laden with food and 11 new friends the night before at our Thanksgiving dinner), and I saw that they were laughing, eating, playing, talking and enjoying the great treasure that is life together. In these brief moments, as I surveyed the faces of people we have come to know and care for over the past two months I thought of the miracle that God has done. It reminds me of Psalm 65:5:“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.” (NIV) I was ready to dive back in!
Like anything precious, and costly, we have been intentional about the types of relationships we have built. We have prayed, YOU have prayed, that the LORD would open the door for us to build relationships with 10 people that we could host, have into our home, and share our life and faith with. God hears the cry of the people of the LORD and answers us! At a translation office, at the playground, at the daycare, at the barber shop, working on our house, and everywhere else we went, God was hearing our prayers and making a way for us to give and receive that most precious gift: relationship! The miraculous in the mundane! Over Thanksgiving weekend, we had over 30 people in our home. When God hears, God delivers, and it is not just what we expect, it is so much more! I had a person caution me, a bit over a month ago, when I told them our hope. They cautioned that it would take a miracle for us to meet 10 Bulgarians and within a month be close enough that they would come to our home: “You know it’s nearly impossible to do that in your own culture!” God does awesome and righteous deeds in response to those who call on the LORD, even to the ends of the earth!
So, thank you for crying out to God on our behalf. Thanks be to God! We give God the glory for the community of people that we have around us. We give God the glory for the wonderful people that we have been able to meet, people who are kind, caring, and generous in so many ways. We give God the glory that our daughter had friends to play with on her first birthday in Bulgaria. We give God the glory that we have a table full of wonderful people for our first holiday in Bulgaria! We give God the glory and we look ahead to what God will do next, especially in the season of Advent. Indeed, our Lord is the hope of all the ends of the earth! We invite you to continue to journey with us as we look forward to the next awesome and righteous deed of our LORD! We are filled with hope the church will thrive in Sofia!