Spending a Sunday in Sofia is always a delight. I met Biss for the 30-minute walk from where I was staying to the meeting pace. It was a beautiful morning, and the walk gave me an opportunity for my traditional Sunday morning mosque picture. The walk gave us time to discuss something while doing something we both really enjoy. Upon arriving at the meeting place the joyous reunions began with folks I have come to hold dear. The meeting that had me fighting back a tear was with Dinyu. He has come from the mountains to live in Sofia again, and promised to become a part of the church. At 91, he seems as spry as ever.
The attendance was good, and that included several families with children. As usual, the two young Egyptian girls taught a class for them. The Arabic-language Bibles were a reminder of their efforts to reach the Muslim refugees in Sofia. Many things about the assembly were very moving, but nothing more so that realizing that the three men “waiting on the table” were from Nigeria, Egypt, and the Ukraine. They represented such different backgrounds and cultures, but united in and by their love for the Lord.
As the meeting concluded, we went with Hristo, Vanya, and a young American girl named Jeanna to a Turkish buffet for lunch. After occupying a table longer than the server would have preferred, we went our separate ways. Biss and I spent a couple of hours walking and talking. Along the way, we met a young family who had recently fallen away. That gave us a good chance to try to reconnect. In the early evening, we went to Savella’s flat for tea and cake. That gave us a better chance to catch up with her on the difficulties she is facing. As we left, I was reminded again of the little things we take for granted. She had had her front door replaced, but the price didn’t included removal of the old door. Consequently, it was standing in the hallway annoying her neighbors. She was understandably unable to carry it down the several flights of stairs to the street. We were able to take care of that on our way out.
Our Saturday tradition has become to spend the day together, often traveling somewhere outside the city. That gives us hours to talk and study while getting a little fresh air. Hristo suggested we go to a small city where the April Uprising to overthrow Turkish oppression began in 1876. It was high enough in the mountains to still be cold, but the sun was shining so it was beautiful. On the way, we stopped to see the lake the church in Sofia typically uses for baptisms. It was 8+ hours of visiting, studying, discussing the work of the church, praying, and laughing together.
Hristo, Biss, and I spent Saturday together touring some areas around Sofia. The main attraction was the site of the beginning of the 1876 uprising to throw of the yoke of Turkish oppression. I was a lovely, but cool day to go up into the mountains. Along the way, we stopped a couple of other places including a village where small church formerly existed as well as the lake where they typically take people to be baptized. The day gave up a great opportunity to discuss the circumstances with the church, efforts to evangelize, challenges we all face as well as laughing, visiting, and praying together.
Biss and I met in the center to catch a the subway for the neighborhood on the fringe of the city where Rafik and his family live. The 40-minute trip gave he and I a chance to visit for a bit. The meal with Rafik’s family was thoroughly enjoyable, and I believe profitable in many ways. We discussed their circumstances, future, and some details from some of the Bible classes he teaches each week. Despite their challenges, the family is doing well and maintaining wonderful dispositions. The kids are adapting well to the Bulgarian culture and thriving spiritually.
A 3-hour layover in Vienna made the trip to Sofia turned into an all-day affair. The direct flights between Prague and Sofia are seasonal. Thankfully I arrived safely, and had only the briefest flashback when we passed the scene of the accident I was in last time here. The weather is warmer than in Prague, and people are getting out and enjoying it. As I walked through the streets of the city center, I was once again struck by how, despite the westernization and modernization, things haven’t changed that much in the last 20 years. It is still a tough place for older people with mobility issues. (She seemed surprised when I opened the door for her.) You can find a shop that will sell you laundry pods individually. There lots of Baklava available. (The lady who owns the AirBnB flat I am in left me some homemade. Yes, Sofia is still the kind of place where you can safely eat those.) Mothers with their babies still stop to chat on the neighborhood sidewalks, and children still play soccer in the schoolyards after classes have ended. And, yes, you do still need to watch where you step.
After Brno, I had a couple of days in Prague. Though it was a brief stay (enough so I really didn’t unpack), I did manage to have some great discussions. These included meeting with some of my favorite young people to continue a discussion of communication in marriage, and another with a dear old friend to continue helping edit some material he is working on.
The trip from Bratislava wasn’t pleasantly uneventful. The train allowed me to get some needed work done. Upon arriving in Brno, I made my way to a hotel where they smile and greet me by name when I walk in the door. I had time to eat, go to the gym, and review my notes before time for the lecture. I always enjoy a walk through the main square. On the way to get some food, I saw some old friends who must feel they are holding the weight of the world on their shoulders.
We didn’t know how many to expect for this lecture. We didn’t have the resources we have had for others to advertise, and the topic- “Finding Unity Among Believers” didn’t seem as attractive as some of our other topics. We were pleasantly surprised by both the turnout and the response to the material. We had about 16 visitors, most of whom were at our lectures for the first time. The Q&A was lively but positive. There will follow up studies with some of the visitors. After we finished, Jan and I had a little while to visit before we parted ways. Brno is another place where I never have enough time.