From the beginning of our journey of faith, we decided that we were not here to build our kingdom, but God’s. Our philosophy has always been that nationals can reach their own people much better than we ever could.
When we first arrived in Bulgaria many years ago, God built connections between us and both Bulgarians and Roma. We began to build strong relationships and deep friendships with them by doing life together. As God formed love and trust between us over the years, we began to learn more about their burden for the needs in their community, as well as a vision of how to meet those needs holistically. These are a few of our stories.
Our Church Plant
Our church plant was the vision and heart of Pastor Lyubcho, a Roma pastor with a strong desire to raise up healthy leaders and create healthy churches. He is also drawn to responding to the hunger issues in his own neighborhood of 12,000 people, where families are going hungry and women often rely on prostitution in order to feed their children.
God connected us with a church in England that is also passionate about church planting. Together — with our national leader, our church supporter, and us to provide on-the-ground help and oversight — we’ve all come together to implement the church plant program. Through this partnership, we’re also in the process of building a kitchen to begin a feeding program.
Our Agriculture Project
Stanimir Zahariev, a local Bulgarian, strongly believed that opportunities would open up for people in the community if they had a way to grow food and to learn how to farm. A church in England loved the idea and joined with us to start an agriculture project. We have purchased the land to teach Bulgarians and Roma how to farm. This is part of a larger five-year plan and is the first step in supporting our feeding program.
Our Safe Home
We learned about the issue of how young girls go missing in Bulgaria from a missionary who has worked here for more than twenty years. She asked us to help find a safe place for the girls to go after the fifth grade when they are the most vulnerable to be sold into marriage and exploitation.
We began building community around this issue by gathering information, networking with other anti-trafficking organizations in Bulgaria, and praying. The response from the U.S. has been tremendous: we now have Stephanie Peaschek, a single lady in her twenties, and a family with three girls packing up and moving to Bulgaria to help start a prevention home for Roma girls. God was beginning to send helpers and build a team.
The challenge was in staying consistent with our mission of empowering nationals, because women in the Roma village aren’t traditionally empowered to hear from God or encouraged to implement work on this scale. However, we knew that the relationship, trust and community we’d built for years would provide a platform to ask for their partnership.
We set up a meeting to start a conversation in the community. We told them: “We cannot do this alone. We need you. These are your sisters, your neighbors, your friends, your community who need your help.” Their response was powerful. The pastor assured me that they were 100 percent with us and would help in any way they could.
Our goal was to empower these women to do their part in their communities. So far, we have helped to empower them by:
* Educating them on trafficking issues so they fully understand the context and can therefore help educate others
* Connecting them with other leaders and organizations in Bulgaria to show them that these other organizations are led by and championed by almost all women
* Demonstrating to them how the microenterprise program they are a part of (knitting scarves and hats) gives 20 percent of all of the proceeds to the girl’s safe home
* Praying together to build and launch this prevention home for girls in our area
It has been so powerful to see the Roma women understanding the big picture, joining in the fight and feeling needed, valued and validated that their opinions matter. As we work to change this long-standing tradition that female voices and contributions don’t matter, we trust that these women will continue to get visions from the Lord, trust Him for big things and implement projects in a godly, righteous and professional manner.
We are thrilled to move these projects forward with the leadership of nationals. What an honor it is to partner with these great men and women of God!