I just got back from my first ever trip to Bulgaria. I've been looking forward to it for a long time. We've heard so much about it from our 3W Teammates Dave and Kathy Simpson, that it was great to finally see it all for real. I was also looking forward to meeting up with our County-Line Church partners who were putting on a (B4T) Business for Transformation seminar in Plovdiv. They did all the work which was fantastic (a big thank you to County Line!). As part of our 3W Seminars strategy, we will often partner up with other non-profits or groups that have expertise we don't have. That is so we can learn from them and not waste money and resources re-inventing the wheel, which has been done too much in the past. Bulgaria is one of the most difficult mission-fields in the world. There are a number of factors which come together to make it challenging. There is the fact that it was under Communist rule during the Cold War and got pretty secularized. At the same time, it is a country that has been under the influence of the non-Protestant Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Then there's the disillusionment that comes from some of the actions of the Orthodox Church and its leadership during the Cold War. It also a culture that tends to be pessimistic, that frowns on encouragement, and is non-introspective.
Furthermore, the economy is pretty weak (Europe's poorest country) and many things don't work--like hospitals or receiving your salary on a regular basis and in a fair manner. It's corrupt, and 85% of Bulgarians who get a chance to work or study abroad do not return. There's also an aging population, a strong Islamic presence, a large Gipsy (Roma) community and ethnic tensions.
One could say: "Doesn't this sound like Africa?" Well, yes, but in some ways its worse. In much of Africa, community and tribe exist to keep things functioning amidst all the ills. Bulgaria, however, is an individualistic society and this is like a nail in the coffin when even formal relationships cannot be maintained. For instance, in Bulgaria, people NEVER have people over to their house. Ever. That's a far cry from Africa and Russia where community still survives to a large extent.
And Africa, at least, is pretty much spiritual all the time which really benefits Christianity and missionaries.
Bulgaria is an unusually hard mission-field. Japan minus the functioning, order-based society. But it's one that people never think about or romanticize. That's why I am always amazed at the Simpsons work in Bulgaria. They have a massive challenge but they have introduced an agape-love that is really brand new in this society. Very few understand what they deal with. But they take it all in stride and with their well-known sense of humor. If you don't get Kathy's "Plovdiv Perspectives" e-newsletter, you really should sign up. Let us know.
So it was great to see them and to see the impact that they have on the people that they love in a variety of ways. They are really good at this job. And exactly what we are looking for at Three Worlds.